ponedjeljak, 2. rujna 2013.

David Gatten - Extravagant Shadows

Ništa od Gattena nisam vidio, ali već su i tekstovi o njemu senzaciozanimljivi.


filmmaker David Gatten realized a 14-year-long dream of creating The Extravagant Shadows, his first digital feature. In it, the director transforms minimal elements (text, paint, sound) into a film that’s as bold, original, conceptual, and monumental as any you’ll ever see. Telling a fractured story of love separated by space and time, and the language-obsessed lovers who attempt to bridge the two with their letter-writing, the film fuses the pleasures of reading and viewing with beautifully visualized texts that echo (and borrow from) novels by such authors as Henry James, Maurice Blanchot, and Stefan Zweig. Fittingly, this is a film that’s going to be written about for years to come. (175 mins., 2K DCP). - wexarts.org/

"A love story in shifting colors, illusive light and sentimental songs from the year 1968. A movie about the movement of desire across the distances of geography and time.  A meditation on the manner in which books, letters and other written or printed communications might both produce and mediate that distance.  A shelf of books, an inventory of pigments.  A question of language and a statement about time. Condensations upon several occasions."  —David Gatten

"The films of David Gatten brand the brain and the retina with equal force. They consist partly of cerebral puzzles and partly of lyrical reveries, and their central drama lies in the space between, where facts transform into poetry and transient experiences are assimilated into systems of knowledge." —Tom McCormack, Moving Image Source

"David Gatten’s The Extravagant Shadows takes up the process of vanishing as its aesthetic conceit and poetic core. Like many of Gatten’s works on celluloid, The Extravagant Shadows is concerned with time of reading, of messages sent and not always, or not fully, received—the work could be considered as much an expanded book as it is a moving image work. To merely watch this film is not enough; it must also be read and indeed inhabited, feeling through the sometimes long intervals between panes of applied paint, the momentary appearance of text, the times of the film’s many vanishings. The film provides ample space to settle in (or to sometimes resist) its subtle rhythms, to observe the striations of color and texture as the paint accumulates, and to absorb the tale of a love affair conducted in letters over the span many years, along with many digressions on the physics of sound transmission, instructions for cablegram communication, and philosophical ruminations on the nature of speech and description. The Extravagant Shadows may be a perceptually demanding work, though it is by no means an unforgiving one. Rather it is an occasion to see and sense the events of disappeared pasts in the richness of the present." —Genevieve Yue, Reverse Shot

"The Extravagant Shadows layers a deep awareness of what’s happening off screen with what we’re seeing on screen, and of what we imagine to be the digital manipulation of the image with the addition of the text. In this way, it represents the concatenation of spaces and times that comprise a digital culture. But rather than inviting the distraction and browsing that often characterize the digital interface, the film provokes a profound experience of presence. We are called forth as subjects, and as beings uniquely able to make connections, understand relations, and produce meaning. We are no longer spectators, witnesses, viewers, readers, or users. We become entirely present: upright, astute, yearning, human. We become present. We become as we should be." —Holly Willis, Film Comment

"It is less the digital precision that impresses than the inexplicably moving way in which the pulsating organism of this video ritualizes the generation and evaporation of texts and colors as equal partners in the prolonged colloquy that determines its singular rhythm. To suggest loss, elusiveness, and ghostly presences in a product of advanced technology is as paradoxical as it is willful." —Tony Pipolo, Artforum

"David Gatten’s new film is a beautiful discourse on language, color, time and mise-en-scène . . . Perhaps the avant-garde cannot stage interventions in the local multiplex, but the revolution can be screened. What’s more, it can still shock, mystify, and finally open up a world that is in operation behind the way people interact with the images that dominate their lives—but you have got to see it to believe it: a work like The Extravagant Shadows is a revolution unto itself."  – Blaire McClendon, FilmLinc Daily

"A finger of pigment brushing a lip of language, exchanging carriage supports, liquidities, fire. Moire of meanings. Micro settings in the heart. The time it takes. The very least one can say is to say The Extravagant Shadows is a major work. Humanly essential, adventurous and necessary." —Mark McElhatten, Curator of Views from the Avant Garde

David Gatten, however, displayed the most daring with his 175-minute The Extravagant Shadows. A conceptual piece, building and yet departing from his earlier 16mm work, Shadows consists of a single, digitally-composited shot of a hand (Gatten’s own) repeatedly painting different colours over a pane of glass, while fragmentary passages from Henry James novels appear on-screen. That even this most abstract of all films is, thanks to its photographic dispositif, still subject to the incursion of the real was palpably demonstrated when, periodically, a fruit-fly would land on the dripping paint, only to invariably be smothered to death by the implacable paintbrush. These tiny creatures – unforeseen, uncontrolled, uncooperative – are the cinema. Every film is a fight to the death, one between the hand of the creator and the material circumstances of the filming process. In time, as the insectile corpses amassed on screen, The Extravagant Shadows became a bloodbath. - 

The Secret of a Happy Home: David Gatten on The Extravagant Shadows

The idea is one of contingency. Everybody must feel that something has been missed, because electing one course of life precludes any other. But what in my case has been missed?

It was an October afternoon last year at the Brooklyn screening space UnionDocs, and our group of five was awaiting David Gatten. He arrived distinctly attired—small-lensed glasses, a scraggly beard, overalls, and a heavy knapsack, from which he removed prints of eight of his eighteen completed 16mm films. Some he hadn’t brought because he’d made them to be shown at an outdated projector speed; one was unavailable because his print remained in California under an old girlfriend’s care. But the films he had on hand he would project himself and discuss with us.
This is a frequent practice for Gatten, who was in New York for the world premiere of his latest work, The Extravagant Shadows, at the New York Film Festival’s Views from the Avant-Garde sidebar. We arranged our private screening because we might never see his remaining works otherwise. His films are unique art objects, rendering chances to view them rare. He explained that no more than three prints of any exist; some, like the What the Water Said series (unprocessed filmstrips exploding with sound and color, the product of Gatten leaving them floating in crab traps off the South Carolina coast), could never be reproduced. Each time a film of his runs through a projector, he said, it dies a little.
These delicate, fragile works need care and attention to survive, much like a key Gatten subject: love. And like much of the output of his self-professed model, Hollis Frampton (whose ode to his own maternal grandmother, Gloria! [1979], is Gatten’s favorite film), they devote themselves to building systematic frames within which love can be articulated. The frames are often made from forms of written language, whether densely coded Western Union messages (Film for Invisible Ink, case no. 323: ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST [2010], prepared for his wedding to fellow filmmaker Erin Espelie) or phrases plucked out of direct, despairing summons written to a beloved from across an ocean (The Great Art of Knowing [2004]). His most celebrated project has been an ongoing nine-part film series, begun in the late 1990s, called The Secret History of the Dividing Line, with each entry named after a book belonging to 18th-century Richmond, Virginia founder William Byrd II, whose library contained over 4,000 volumes. The series’ four completed films, all silent (though Gatten prefers to call them quiet) and three of the four in black-and-white, tremble with close-ups of thick, richly engraved words soon to disappear from sight.

Moxon’s Mechanick Exercises, or the Doctrine of Handy-Works Applied to the Art of Printing
It takes words much longer to vanish in The Extravagant Shadows, Gatten’s first digital work, which will be screening again in New York (in a session curated by Views programmer Mark McElhatten) at Lincoln Center on Monday, April 29 at 7 P.M. with Gatten in person. They fade in, ghostlike, forming cryptic messages over layers of paint with which the artist has covered a bookcase’s glass front, then haunt the screen for several minutes as they fade back out. Though many originally come from other writers, including Stefan Zweig, Maurice Blanchot, and Henry James (from whose short story “The Jolly Corner” Gatten took Shadows’ title), the tale that they obliquely tell—made up of overlapping possible stories that lovers might share, if chance allows—is of Gatten’s invention.
How did you learn to read?
I cannot completely remember learning to read, but I know that books were always a tremendously important part of the household. We did not listen to a lot of music. Music was not on all the time, and was a very special event when it was played. Books formed the architecture of our home. My mother majored in Shakespeare at William & Mary. My father would read to us for an hour every night and my mother would read on the weekends. My earliest memories of literature are of having it read aloud to me. I am certain that Dr. Seuss was an important beginning, and I feel like I learned to read and took pleasure in reading early on. My parents would take us to the library every week, where we were allowed only three books. That wasn’t a library policy, but a family policy, which put into place an idea of scarcity, and a need to then choose carefully. Books were serious and special things. So I spent all of my allowance money on buying them.

The Extravagant Shadows
My relationship to the written word became problematic when I tried to learn to write cursive, because in the 1970s in North Carolina public schools, if you were left-handed you were still referred to as “the Devil’s child.” As a left-handed person I was too much for the teacher, and was put in the corner with crayons to draw while everyone else learned to write. I have never had an easy relationship with my own handwriting, and in fact, much of the time I cannot read anything that I write. I believe that this problem has become a fundamentally important condition for my thinking about text as image in cinema, and issues of legibility and illegibility. Hardwood Process (1996) is largely a movie about my inability to read my own diary. The film has 14 sections, each beginning with a phrase. It’s all stuff that I couldn’t read, but that I knew was important. So I had to make images to complete the phrases. Even today, at age 41, I am still frequently unable to read something I have written by hand. I am still learning how to read on a daily basis.
I’ve learned to read very differently based on the kind of books I have been reading. David Markson is one of the two “skeleton key” writers that have inspired and informed my cinema—the other being Susan Howe, especially her book The Non-Conformist’s Memorial (1993), and within it the poem “Melville’s Marginalia.” Although my method of writing and condensing writing was pretty well developed by the time I read Markson’s This Is Not a Novel in 2001, I feel I was deeply altered by it—and then also by a subsequent reading of Vanishing Point (2004). I found it both one of the funniest and one of the most emotionally devastating reading experiences of my life. I think there could never have been the Films for Invisible Ink [a series of films specifically made for friends and loved ones]—especially the first one, Film for Invisible Ink, case no. 71: BASE-PLUS-FOG (2006) [made for Gatten’s first wife, Weena Perry]—without it. And I’ve been going to school with Markson ever since. Those last five novels of his speak so strongly and directly to a poetic and narrative strategy that I find moving as a reader and, at this point one happily and nearly inevitability at play in my own work as a filmmaker. Touchstone works by a writer of enormous humanity.
I also learned how to read over the last seven years from reading Henry James.
How did James inform The Extravagant Shadows?
“The Birthplace,” the short tale in which the young couple is caretaking Shakespeare’s cottage, is the first James text that appears. It initiates a narrative about a young couple going to live in a place that is inhabited by a spirit they can’t see, but with whom they want to commune. I used this tale as the launching pad. It immediately seemed related to, but different from, the James tale, “The Jolly Corner,” which is about a man who is going back to a house that he owns but hasn’t been to for years, and who, as he starts to visit it, also starts to recognize the life he might have led. “The Jolly Corner” is, in my reading, very much about a consideration of another self. Those two stories I had read many years before and confused. They had been condensing for years in my brain before I came back to try and capture something of them on paper.
So there were situations and a narrative thematic that James provided immediately. But much more important was the way in which he deploys language to describe a series of events, which might be actions in the external world or the internal clockworks of emotions and of decision-making processes. The way he will circle around something, with the most important things being what he leaves unsaid. He makes beautiful outlines with language. I was interested in the specific instances of language he uses to do that, but also in his greater approach to storytelling. All of the storytelling in The Extravagant Shadows is based in a late Jamesian mode of proceeding through an event, an idea, a character, or an emotion.

The Extravagant Shadows
James is there in almost every panel of text. I wrote most of the text myself, but I was writing in relation to James almost the entire time. James makes visible the process of thought, which of course happens very fast, but through his use of language, he slows it down so that we are able to understand someone else’s thinking. A character’s, but also his own, with all the hesitations and circling back in slow motion, which allows for analytic examination. With The Extravagant Shadows I’m trying to do that. I don’t think it’s a slow film, but it is a place to reside in for a long time. I hope that there is a lot of time to consider small details, whether those are details of language, of paint, or of light shifting.
How did The Extravagant Shadows form?
I have always worked slowly, but the older I get the slower I am working, and the longer I am willing to work on a project. The Extravagant Shadows began in 1998 with an idea about certain pieces of language, based in Blanchot. I knew I wanted to make a work where language was staging itself very, very slowly, much more slowly than I could accomplish with what I knew about filmmaking at the time. I was in graduate school at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and was doing a lot of contact printing and optical printing. On a contact printer the longest fade you can have is 96 frames, or four seconds. On a small JK optical printer it’s very difficult to make something longer than four seconds, and I knew I wanted fades to last minutes, and for things to hover on the edge of legibility for minutes. I knew that I wanted to work with an analogue video image and text generating, so that I could have a different kind of control over time. I assumed that this work was going to be an analogue tape. There was very little text then compared to what there is now. It was going to be a much shorter piece, maybe half an hour long. But I didn’t know how to make it, and it wasn’t urgent to make at that moment, and other projects took over. This was at the same time that I was discovering the Byrd project, and that took hold strong. So The Extravagant Shadows, which wasn’t even called that then (I think it was called Area Effect), just sat.
I came back to it a few years later and fiddled with the text some more. A lot of what I do in the studio is sit and write. I’m not always working with strips of film. I’m not always in the darkroom. It is often reading and writing. The studio is a place to consider words, and to structure my own words, as well as to produce images. So I would write. Sometimes if I got stuck on another project I would return, but I mainly kept putting it aside, and putting it aside. I’d shot some stuff on VHS that didn’t have anything to do with the images that we’re looking at now. I was actually shooting a TV monitor of a snowstorm on bad antennae reception. There was the snow of the storm that the weather channel was covering and there was the snow on the screen itself, and that was serving as a background for these words to emerge from. And I thought that that was interesting, but I wasn’t wild about it. I knew at a certain point that I was going to work with a mini-DV camera, but that didn’t end up going anywhere either.
Then I moved to New York in 2006, finished the first Invisible Ink film, BASE-PLUS-FOG, and went back to what, at that point, I knew to be The Extravagant Shadows. I was reading Henry James on a daily basis, and conversing with a friend who was also reading James. We would wake up every morning, call each other, and ask, “What’d you read last night? How was it?” For two years we were reading James almost every day. Mostly not the novels—mostly it was the tales. We systematically made our way through nearly all 112 tales, and talked about them, and that is when the piece started to find the shape that it has now. I knew it was going to have a Jamesian structure, that the characters, the situations, the ambiguities, the events would have something to do with the way James represented the world through language. And that there would be phrases, but that I was going to write through them, around them, and to connect things from a dozen of the different tales to make a new story that doesn’t exist in any James tale, that doesn’t exist in any Blanchot book, but that borrowed from and condensed them.

The Extravagant Shadows
I use the term “condensation” in relation to texts. I am trying to build cinematic structures that replicate the process of condensation within a glass of water, allowing for things that are in the air to be fixed, find new form, and group together as visible, light-catching substances. What I’m trying to pull out of the air is language. These cultural productions that exist as books, I’m trying to build a cinematic structure to condense them. It’s an active reading process, first of all. It’s recognizing that this phrase connects to this phrase, and that if there’s this idea here, and there’s another idea 18 inches away, I’ve got to then use language to make the connection to draw these two things together. I believe that poetry often operates as a kind of condensation which functions through ellipsis, an economy of means, and a high level of organization. Shape is important in poetry. It’s deeply important in prose as well, but there it’s articulated in a different way, and often at a different length. I am trying to boil down experience and language into a smaller vessel. I am still working out this poetics, and am just starting to understand it as a tool, rather than something that I recognize that I do. I didn’t say, when I started doing this, “Now I will condense this text.” I just found myself doing it, and it was during the last couple of years of writing The Extravagant Shadows that I came to understand it as an approach that I can apply to any existing text to make a set of new meanings. To take, as I do, a Wallace Stevens poem, “Description Without Place,” and condense it into 24 lines by taking certain ideas, leapfrogging over others, and forming a new poem. With Stevens, with James, with Blanchot.
That writing process took up a lot of time. But it was only once I started teaching at Duke University in 2010, and once Erin and I moved to the cottage we live in when we are at Duke, that things really coalesced. I started shooting the cottage walls because I love the colors the walls are painted, which were the existing colors when we moved in. Home is really Salinas, Colorado, all of our things are in the cabin there, and the Durham cottage is quite minimal by comparison. We don’t put things on the cottage walls. The walls are painted, and the paint is beautiful. I felt that the walls were speaking.

The Extravagant Shadows
In 2011, I started filming—not filming, but shooting with Erin’s Nikon D-7000. I started making images and recording sound in the cottage. I was so inspired by the paint that I wanted to start painting myself, mix paints, and experiment with layering colors and producing effects of color and light rendered digitally. All of the painting that we see in the final form of The Extravagant Shadows was performed in May, June, and July of 2012 in Colorado outside the cabin. It was very important to do the painting outside, where the clouds could move across the sun and change the color temperature and affect that world of paint. I didn’t want it to be a static, studio-lit situation. I wanted low relative humidity to help the paint dry, and I wanted the paint to be alive to the changing of light.
So it was a circuitous path, with a lot of stop-and-start. And then, as there often is, there came a moment when I could think about nothing else. I was intending to finish the new Byrd film, but The Extravagant Shadows said, “No.” I was so surprised. I’ve been making work for a while, and I know what I’m doing as a 16mm filmmaker. I’m deeply surprised about what happened with digital cinema and The Extravagant Shadows.
What is your background in painting?
It stretches all the way back to May of 2012. I had never painted anything before then, except for places where I had lived, where I was just painting the walls. I wasn’t painting pictures, I was applying paint, which I like to do, but I had never painted before. I like to look at paintings a lot, though. Adriaen Coorte’s painting White Asparagus at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam—in which the white paint has faded to the point at which the image of the asparagus is really a translucent ghost of itself—is probably my favorite painting. And then I often think most of my filmmaking operates in relation to experiences I’ve had with Agnes Martin’s work.
Part of what I’m interested in in cinema is exploring materials. With the What the Water Said project, I put into play the substances of the ocean, the river, and the filmstrip. I didn’t know what was going to happen—all I did was throw the celluloid into the water. With The Extravagant Shadows I chose different kinds of paints. I chose oil-based enamel paint and acrylic paint, and I layered those on top of each other and let them make the picture. I didn’t control—I just wanted to see what would happen with the relative humidity of the air, the intensity of the sunlight, and the way that those paints reacted to each other. They’re not made to be used in tandem like that. So it was about letting the materials articulate themselves.

The Extravagant Shadows
As the movie goes on, I start to do things with the brush to provide different conditions for them to articulate themselves into different kinds of images. The paintbrush starts to activate different characteristics of the paint. It starts to layer or smudge things, or work with one layer before the other layer is completely dry. I was learning. I was listening and watching the paint as the shoot went on, and trying to respond to what I was learning. I then started making some paintings, but found that they weren’t interesting to me. What I was interested in was seeing paint dry. As soon as the paint would dry, I would apply more paint, so that it was never dry and always drying. The painting never finishes. It never stabilizes. It’s always changing.
What are the extravagant shadows?
For me, first and foremost, they are language. It’s the words themselves—and the ideas, stories and emotions they describe—that can’t be contained, erased, painted over. They are so extravagant that they cannot be effaced. I was keenly aware when making this that it was a digital work, and that as a digital work, it in some ways flew in the face of the aesthetics of the mostly black-and-white 16mm Byrd work—and most everything else I’ve made. And many of those films—The Great Art of Knowing [second film in the Byrd sequence], The Enjoyment of Reading (Lost and Found) [2001, fourth film in the Byrd sequence], the new, still-unfinished Byrd film in particular—are filled with shadows, with dappled light, with extravagant expressions of light and dark, kinetic (and I believe beautiful) expressions of light modulated through shadow. Those films are filled with extravagant shadows. My guess is that when people see this new title and think of my work, they’re thinking of visual shadows. But I wanted to get at something less literal. The early gesture of painting out the books is, I think, a notice that this isn’t going to be the same space. We’re not going to be considering the book-as-object. We’re going to be considering what the book contains, and what it might evoke, as opposed to represent. There are shadows in this digital work, and there are reflections, but they are considerably more subtle, although perhaps no less extravagant, than in the 16mm work.
Do you feel these shadows coming to life?
That’s the goal, and I hope they do. I ‘m moved that viewers thus far have seemed so committed to giving them life through their attention. That’s the only way they can come to life—through someone’s concentrated and generous imagination.

The Enjoyment of Reading (Lost and Found)
There are certain kinds of movie experiences—which I love having—where everything is largely determined. If you go to see the Lord of the Rings movies or the Jason Bourne films or a Soderbergh in a certain mode, then you are going to live inside a world that is built almost airtight and perfectly articulated. You will identify with characters, you will lose yourself, the meaning is blazing off the screen, and you are actively subsumed in it. This is one kind of experience, which commercial cinema frequently seeks to produce.
My background of consuming and enjoying that probably helped me conceive work that was different from commercial cinema, and closer to the aesthetic experience of the fine arts. I admire the idea of the oppositional cinema, but what I’m making is just in favor of itself, and not necessarily opposed to something else—I like the other thing too, it just isn’t what I’m doing. I prefer to think of cinema as an ecosystem with different kinds of works existing at various points along a continuum rather than simply being in opposition to each other. For the kind of experience I seek, I don’t want anyone to forget who they are or where they are, and I want my viewers to be active in a different way. I want the chief activity to be that of the viewer approaching the screen, and for the meaning of the work not to be inherent, but rather to be a product of someone’s engagement with it.
Now, that is not to say that anything goes.Rather, it means that my job as a filmmaker is to define a field of play containing multiple paths. This is what Umberto Eco describes in his great book, The Open Work (1962). When I encountered that book in graduate school it articulated many things that I was feeling about experimental and avant-garde cinema and that I admired, but that I couldn’t articulate for myself.

Moxon’s Mechanick Exercise, or the Doctrine of Handy-Works Applied to the Art of Printing
Why don’t you attribute the source texts in The Extravagant Shadows?
I have made some attempt at attribution in the printed material, but not in the work itself. I use other peoples’ texts in almost everything I make. Quite often there are attributions at the end of the films, and quite often there are not. My name appears at the end of some works and not in others. Because that is a shot, it’s not just credits. That’s the last shot of the movie. I am thinking about these things as images. I could not possibly end Secret History of the Dividing Line [2002, first film in the Byrd sequence] after the words “Here ends the Secret History” by then putting “David Gatten 2002.” That would be preposterous. That would be another image. Here would not have ended the secret history: it wouldn’t be over yet. I would never put my name at the end of The Great Art of Knowing. That would be like a desecration of what I was trying to do. Yet at the end of the next two Byrd films, I not only refer to texts, but my name is on the films. In Moxon’s Mechanick Exercises, or the Doctrine of Handy-Works Applied to the Art of Printing [1999, third film in the Byrd sequence] I cite the translations, the translators, sometimes the press itself, because that was a book about translation and the printing press, and so that is an appropriate image with which to end that film. That wasn’t an image that I wanted to end The Extravagant Shadows with. I wasn’t going to go to a black screen after those books. The last image of that film had to be book spines. So there was not an appropriate place within the image sequence to put that attribution information. It’s not secret. It’s not that I don’t want people to know. It’s just that there is not an appropriate place to relate that onscreen. It’s an aesthetic concern. Other filmmakers often use credits as bookends. For me they’re covers.
Did you see a similarity in the relationships between celluloid and digital photography and between the physical book and digital text?
I didn’t think much about digital text—in the form of electronic books or reader devices per se. I’ve seen people on the subway carrying these E-readers, but I’ve never actually held one nor tried to read from one. So I suppose it is amusing at some level that I’ve made a three-hour movie that is all digital text and is essentially an electronic reader. I really wasn’t thinking about it in those terms while making it—I was more concerned with, and interested in, the difference between working with celluloid film titles and computer-generated text.  Of course we’re going through a tremendous change in print culture—we can’t even call it print culture anymore—reading culture—in the same way that we are going through a transition with the moving image. I have addressed this before. The transition from celluloid to digital I was trying to get at in 1999, when I made Moxon’s Mechanick Exercises. Joseph Moxon produced the first manual of style to tell printers how to print. I was trying to go back to the moment when we moved from scribal reproduction to mechanical reproduction of texts with Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press and the printing of the Gutenberg Bible. One can then draw the celluloid-digital analogy within The Extravagant Shadows, where at the beginning I put the books away and then bring out the text. The object disappears, but the text persists.  I suppose at that level it is some sort of comment on the status of the book in the 21st century.
It is largely a quiet film, but there is some sound. How did you make your soundtrack choices?
The music—five songs from a 1968 Merrilee Rush album called Angel of the Morning—I took as the soundtrack. I was interested in using those songs as texts in the exact same way I was considering works by Henry James, Stefan Zweig, Roger Gard, and Lao Yee-Cheung. They are conveying narrative information, in a voice that has emotion and phrasing. I was thinking of the songs as another set of texts, manifesting language differently. Not just onscreen, visual language, but sung language. And all of those songs have particular emotional dynamics that intersect with some of the narrative thrust or the situations in the other texts.

The Extravagant Shadows
That’s about the music. One of the big differences between shooting 16mm film on a Bolex and shooting digital images on a Nikon D-7000 is that the digital camera assumes sound. It automatically records synchronous sound, whereas a Bolex does not. It’s actually tortuously difficult to record synchronous sound in film. You’ve really got to make a point of it. And with a Digital SLR (DSLR) you’ve got to turn off the sound. You’ve got to go to a bit of trouble to make it a silent recording. So it felt important to acknowledge that, and to let there be a moment where the image gains dimension through the genuine synchronous sound of a particular place. I make that gesture at the moment in the movie when I want to address sound. Up to that point—one hour and 18 minutes—there has been a lot of mention of sounds and spoken language. In all sections of the narrative thus far, the text speaks about characters hearing things. So I hope that we are primed as viewers to already be thinking about what it means to hear something. I then wanted us to hear something, and then I wanted that to go away. It was important to explore something that I had never explored before, but that is inherent in working with a new digital camera.
A few days before I saw the film, you told me that Hollis Frampton’s film Gloria! would help me make better sense of it. It might have been because of the way that Frampton uses music. How do you see the usage of music in the two films as synchronous, and what other synchronicities do you see?
When I saw Gloria!, I felt Frampton was almost reminding me that music is appropriate, in the same way that I think he reminded a lot of people that language is an appropriate area of exploration. Coming out of an American avant-garde cinema as articulated by Stan Brakhage, which was largely about a perception beyond or before language, Frampton brought us back to language. And I experienced very powerfully his use of music. But it’s not just the use of music in Gloria! that is important in relation to The Extravagant Shadows. That music has been described in language before we ever hear it. It’s an example of a seed that he plants. In one of those statements about his grandmother, he describes the music, so when the music comes on later there is a recognition. We have an epiphany that now we are hearing the wedding music. So it’s not just that the music is there, it’s that we know what this music is based on a prior experience we’ve had. We have learned something. The relationship between language and music in Gloria!—very different than Bruce Conner or Lewis Klahr or Bruce Baillie’s powerful usages of music—helped me understand what was possible. Frampton was setting us up for music to mean something within a context that he had already provided for us.
I was completely knocked out by this way of structuring an emotional experience. So I wanted to explore it myself. Long before “Angel of the Morning” comes on, bits of the lyrics are onscreen. You would have to be a Merrilee Rush fan and know that song pretty well to recognize some of the early phrases, but it is certainly my hope that, after the songs have come on and lyrics continue to appear, you make that connection.
You studied acting when you were younger. How has your actor’s training informed your filmmaking?
I sometimes think of myself not as a filmmaker per se, but a performer, and that I use these films as highly elaborate and painstakingly crafted props. Because I believe that when I’m lucky enough to be present and speaking with a film that what I say beforehand and afterwards is part of my work as an artist. Both the work of speaking and the work that occurs onscreen have to do with activating public space and putting into play a range of ideas. I don’t believe that the work that is on screen must stand alone. Nothing stands alone. Everything operates within a context. Some contexts are more familiar than others, but everything has one, and so I am interested in what happens when I plant seeds in an introduction to a piece of work. That’s part of the composition. It was a strategic decision to begin the premiere of The Extravagant Shadows by speaking about Eric Gill, who is never referred to explicitly within the film itself, although if you know the typeface Gill Sans, you see that a lot of the type is set in Gill Sans and a lot is set in Perpetua, and that there are locations in the film that figured into Eric Gill’s life. I hoped that there would be little moments of recognition. That is where the theater background comes in, because it’s a bit of a performance—it’s thought out—it is part of the composition.

Film for Invisible Ink, case no. 323: ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST
The other way in which being on stage for about a decade has affected my filmmaking is that it made possible, right away, a certain comfort level with, and really, an interest in, the performative aspects of being a teacher.  I’m proud of the work that I have done in the classroom and I am grateful that my various academic teaching jobs have provided a structure, both temporally and economically, for me to continue my filmmaking practice. I feel I have been successful as a teacher in large measure because of how I am able to combine what I know and what I believe about cinema with what I am able to do in the classroom as a performer. This has in turn now informed my ideas of how to structure a three-hour block of time with the moving image. At Duke I teach a three-and-a-half-hour class twice a week, and each class is its own composition. I write an essay and I speak each word, I memorize 95 percent of it so that I can mostly deliver it as a monologue, and I try to structure the articulation of meaning in the classroom in the same way that I try to in The Extravagant Shadows. These last three years mark the first time in this 16-year period when I have been making films and teaching that the practices have intersected and are traveling alongside each other.
How so?
Largely through thinking about how meaning accrues in the classroom. I got more interested in thinking about those strategies partly based on some film materials I was working with. In 2001 my grad school friend Ken Eisenstein sent me several 3 x 5 instructional pamphlets from the Little Blue Book series (1919-1978)—How to Write Letters for All Occasions, Home Vegetable Gardening, and The Enjoyment of Reading. This Little Blue Book series is kind of astonishing. Over a thousand of these things on nearly every possible topic that you could ever want to know anything about. What You Need to Know About Phrenology. How to Conduct a Love Affair. I was fascinated by these didactic texts. They then became important in several of my films. These were my first works of condensation as a writing process. The film The Enjoyment of Reading (Lost and Found), which begins with five screens of condensed text from the pamphlet The Enjoyment of Reading, is the very first. Do I need an instructional text about these things, and in what ways do these reduce one’s experience of the world?
My theory of pedagogy at this point, having taught for 16 years and watched things work and fail in the classroom, is that it is most interesting to proceed first by producing a kind of confusion for students. My idea is that, in any given class, the first half should be about the production of a confusion that encourages curiosity while destabilizing a student’s comfort level with the material. Everything I do should raise questions. “Why is he talking about that? How is that relevant to film? He’s talking about music, he’s talking about poetry, he’s talking about opera, he’s talking about gardening. How does this have anything to do with a film class?” And then the second half of class should exist partially in order to relieve some of that confusion, but in a way that is, again, like planting seeds that are going to blossom into a series of recognitions later. I am not telling them something, they have to make the connections themselves. They have to be present, alert. But then when they do make that recognition, it’s far more powerful than if I had just told them the answer to begin with, because they’re discovering it on their own. So by the end of a class, I hope that 90 percent of the confusion is relieved through a series of revelations, and if it’s really going well, epiphanies, that then transmute that last 10 percent of confusion into mystery. And that mystery is what propels you to the next class, where it changes back into confusion. And so on.

The Extravagant Shadows
That’s what I’m trying to do each week in the classroom, and increasingly in my filmmaking. Film for Invisible Ink, case no. 323: ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST is a prime example. “What is this? How are these phrases related to anything?” But I hope that by the end, some sort of transmutation has taken place, and that these things that were simply Western Union telegraphic code phrases now take on new meanings in the context of a series of wedding vows. The Extravagant Shadows is the fullest exploration of this way of working, and the deepest I’ve gone into planning nested stories, setting things up that pay off later, while being at peace with the risk of confusing viewers for 15 or 20 minutes so that an hour and a half down the line it becomes clear from context why that material was there.
Who are the human figures in the film?
Well, visually, there’s my reflection in the window and in the paint, with my hand blocking light, or my body blocking sunlight. It’s one of the relatively few times that a human body has appeared in my cinema. I didn’t initially decide to present myself. I saw that I was reflected in the glass, and had to consider whether to eliminate my image. And I decided that it was appropriate to see me. Since you were already going to see my hand, it’s not off the table to see the reflection of my whole body.
The other human figures in the film are people that I’ve encountered in books and appear in the movie represented by language. Some are characters—or composites of characters—from stories by James and Blanchot. I recognize one of them as being Henry James himself.  And I recognize two of them as being Erin and myself. And I think that at this early stage of getting to know this new work that’s all I’ll say about them.
What is your interest in ghost stories?
They form one manifestation of my interest in desire across distance, whether temporal or geographic. There is something that can’t quite be reached, present but immaterial, that is the haunting. It is the past manifested imperfectly in the present. It’s a cultural form with which we are familiar, and therefore fertile as one way to articulate the difficulty of desire.

The Extravagant Shadows
Desire, of course, is connected to love, which I first learned about from watching my parents. I have a very good model, and learned by example. They take a lot of care with each other, and they were never afraid to speak to me about the care that they take. I always knew that they loved each other, but that that was not sufficient. You have to take care with that love. Love is a thing that is both robust and fragile, and so you have to care for it. I also learned about love from books. M. M. Kaye’s The Far Pavilions (1978) was a childhood experience of a story about love across time and space that has certainly informed what I do in the cinema. And not just the book, but also that 1983 HBO miniseries adaptation starring Ben Cross, Amy Irving, Omar Sharif, and Christopher Lee. That was a major, major thing for a 12-year-old boy thinking about love, and that’s reverberated throughout my life and my filmmaking, in the same way that Edith Wharton’s novel The Age of Innocence (1920) has.
I have also learned about love from being married to Weena. At that time I wasn’t ready to be a good partner or a good husband. I was struggling so hard to be a filmmaker and a film teacher and a good husband that all three of those things suffered. That was a hard time, and I still have deep sadness from having failed at it. But it taught me what was required of me. I have since learned about love, and how to love, on a daily basis with Erin. I am trying very hard not to make the same mistakes. I make other mistakes. I make new mistakes all the time. But that’s part of learning.
How is Erin in The Extravagant Shadows?
I’m maybe a little hesitant to even answer that. But in a way I already have, I guess. At one level she—well, both of us, really, are characters in it. We appear as figures in the text. She reads aloud to me when I cook, and I read aloud to her when she cooks, and she reads aloud while I do the dishes. We live in an old gold mining cabin when in Colorado and a little cottage when we are at Duke, so for me, the couple in the cottage, with the lamplight, is very much a representation of our engagement with literature and how we share literature through reading aloud to each other. That story is one of the frames for The Extravagant Shadows. And that act is one of the frames for our daily life.

The Extravagant Shadows
That’s how I’d say she is in it explicitly. But she’s in it in other ways that I don’t yet know how to articulate, because this work is so new to me that I am still learning about it. I’m not sure I can nail down specific things. It’s maybe too soon to do that. But the premiere at Lincoln Center was the first time that Erin had seen it. It was a very interesting experience, with the press screening happening 10 days beforehand, and all these people seeing it and talking about it and some stuff going online, which Erin read before seeing the movie. I then sat next to her and felt some of her reactions. I was watching the movie, but I was also highly aware of her on my left responding… recognizing certain things. That was a powerful experience for me—to have, in a way, made this work for her, and then to have her receive it. It was the giving of a gift. And it’s not the first gift of cinema I’ve given her. I was thinking about our wedding and that film as well.
Happily, she had a very good experience of the work at the screening. Afterwards we went to Café Luxembourg, where we had had our first date, with a big group of people, and then we went just the two of us and sat in a little pizza café and talked for two hours about the movie and the screening. It was tremendously important to get that space for just the two of us and talk about what had happened. It was rewarding for me to have her response. And she is an amazing viewer.
What does contingency mean to you?
That’s where the movie starts, with that text: “The idea is one of contingency.” One has to make choices. One can’t live every life or do everything. I’d like to think that if we make careful choices, then our decisions in the life we do lead might redeem or recognize the lives we did not lead. As the film’s text also says, “What tenderness of attention might mitigate battered experience.”
The Extravagant Shadows feels like a major experience in my life. It’s coming at an important moment, in which I’ve just been honored with a “mid-career” retrospective [“Texts of Light: A Mid-Career Retrospective of Fourteen Films by David Gatten,” curated by Chris Stults and organized by the Wexner Center for the Arts] that traveled around the U.S. in 2011 and 2012. I had a year to think about what I have been able to do so far. What is my cinema at the mid-career? I feel a sense of peace right now with having made a contribution to a conversation that I care deeply about, and I am very proud, I think, that my contribution has been valued by other people who are also taking part in the discussion. And so I hope that, in any larger consideration of my life, this work will stand out as something that consolidates, while exploring more deeply and in a different fashion, concerns that have been with me since the beginning. I don’t envision it as being a pivot or a shift, but I hope that it is seen as a flowering of seeds that took a long time to come to the surface. Whatever happens next will certainly affect how The Extravagant Shadows is seen in the future. But what happens next I don’t know.
One way that I see the progression of my films is as a narrative. I think that’s why I am able to bounce between completely different kinds of articulation. The Continuous Quantities project, a series of films in which every shot is 29 frames [modeled after Leonardo da Vinci’s division of an hour into 3,000 equal parts], is so vastly different as a way of thinking about montage from The Great Art of Knowing. But it’s all part of a larger narrative or inquiry about the relationship between different systems of representation, language, and image, and about articulating meaning between them. In the end I think it’s all one project.


The Systematically Incomplete Dialectical Process, or, Articulations of Structural Mythopoeia in the Para-Classical Realm for the Metrickally Measured Linguistical Motivics and Deeply Felt Cinematic Appoggiatura of Mr. David Gatten, Gentleman by Michael Sicinski

By Michael Sicinski
1. David Gatten’s cinema is probably the clearest articulation of a broader tendency in contemporary experimental cinema. Filmmakers working in this mode are equally influenced by Romanticist and Formalist traditions. Personal expressivity and objective rigour are not so much stances as they are strategies, poles along which to suspend oneself in a mutual process of reality testing. But let’s not be vague here. “Structuralism” and “mythopoeia” are not simply equally available options in a filmmaker’s equal-opportunity toolkit. We have to draw some lines, and here is a line: the most vital contemporary work being made today emerges from the tension implicit within this historical inheritance, by plumbing the problematic. As Scott MacDonald correctly pointed out, a film such as Secret History of the Dividing Line (2002) exemplifies this in its very construction. David Gatten organizes the rhythm of the lengthy, text-free third “act” with mathematical regularity, a method that will remain a hallmark of Gatten’s editing. But the cement splices of black leader so organized produce highly irregular, handmade images of pure cinematic “stuff,” a thick, pulpy impasto that at times resembles primitive landscapes but mostly summons visual memories of Abstract Expressionism, albeit of a sort that struggles to birth itself from a dark painterly pitch. Secret History of the Dividing Line does not “resolve” Stan Brakhage and Hollis Frampton; it instigates a dialogue that Gatten does not ever intend to finish.
2. Although considered a conceptual filmmaker, David Gatten is committed to a handcrafted approach that enriches even the text-only elements of his films with a sensual, haptic cinematic supplement. This is yet another way in which Gatten’s films reframe older aesthetic dichotomies. Gatten’s films are beautiful. Such a statement, flat and declarative, may contravene certain still-prevalent prejudices regarding so-called conceptual cinema. But whatever else they do, these films operate as a network of luxurious surfaces, their texts either emanating and dissipating from within a hazy, milky-amber light, or embossed upon the screen with the shallow, crepuscular ridges of the printed antiquarian page, the solidity of the textual-image framed by the irregular line of xerography, tape lift, or light spill. For instance, much of The Enjoyment of Reading, Lost and Found (2002), consists of card-catalogue entries, a series of formally uniform descriptions of texts. Like Dividing Line and two other films—Moxon’s Mechanik Exercises (1999) and The Great Art of Knowing (2004)—Enjoyment is part of Gatten’s ongoing series of films engaging with the material history of William Byrd II (1674-1744), founder of Richmond, Virginia, and early American librarian. Gatten’s structural regularity of the catalogue cards in Enjoyment, each onscreen for the same number of frames, each in identical format, actually complements their timeworn individuality as physical artifacts, the tangible resonances of distributed ink that only Gatten’s cinematic presentation could highlight. And so, when this procession of “clerical” data gives way, in the film’s next movement, to crystalline colour images of pure green luminosity (unavoidably evocative of Brakhage’s The Text of Light [1974]), we are indeed receiving “raw data” in a phenomenological sense. But the distinction between the two parts—the green light reveals a candle; the cards are sensual in their own right—is a matter of degree.
3. David Gatten’s work, taken as a whole, can be broadly characterized thusly: the presence or introduction of systems of knowledge simultaneously undermined and made uniquely expressive by their non-comprehensive state. Each film, and the films taken together, forms a library “misfiled” by desire. Patently expressive works like Brakhage’s frequently thematize the engulfing power of the universe upon the human sensorium, the sublimity of lostness. This is especially true of the longer works, like Dog Star Man (1961-64), The Text of Light, or The God of Day Had Gone Down Upon Him (2000). Less often remarked upon, however, is the fact that “late” structuralist film projects, such as Michael Snow’s ‘Rameau’s Nephew’ by Diderot (Thanx to Dennis Young) by Wilma Schoen (1974), Hollis Frampton’s Magellan cycle (1971-1980), or Ken Jacobs’ variations on Tom, Tom the Piper’s Son (1969-present), are also largely about foregrounding the experience of being lost. But instead of diving straight into phenomenological rapture, these works attempt to install provisional categories and parameters for understanding. The experience differs from work to work, of course, but they are united in their situating of data within frameworks that are consistently incomplete, sometimes (especially in Snow) to the point of absurdity. This impulse toward “mobile order,” the taxonomy in the sands of high tide, places these films in a noble tradition: Descartes and Locke, Barthes, Borges, and Calvino. This is quite squarely the framework for understanding Gatten’s cinema, with the proviso, of course, that a large part of its radical a-systematic non-comprehensiveness results from Gatten’s commitment to the Romantic and artisanal modes that traditional formalisms have tended to suppress.
None of Gatten’s films thematizes this problem as explicitly as The Great Art of Knowing (2004), which, at 37 minutes, is the longest of the Byrd films to date. In it, Gatten specifically (re)stages a tremulous death match within what we have come to understand as intellectual history. On the one hand, Knowing draws on various actual texts and ideas (Leonardo, Wittgenstein, etc.), present within the film, the organizing/disorganizing principle being a 17th-century tome with which the film shares its title. A volume from the Byrd library, it was intended to be a vast compendium of available knowledge. On the other hand, Gatten engages with the tomes of the library and the Byrds themselves, their history and the material facticity of what they built. Where does “knowing” lie? The Great Art of Knowing interpolates fragments of the life of Byrd’s daughter Evelyn and traces of a love affair that was not meant to leave a record. Where does a “body of knowledge” reside? Is it in the building of a library, with its system of categorization and judgments over inclusion? And where did that missing book go?
4. David Gatten’s cinema is not only textual. It is chemical. History is left on the material substrate of things. Moxon’s Mechanik Exercises is Gatten’s Byrd film based on another titular volume, in this case a text about (as the subtitle explains) the art of printing. More specifically, the book is about the printing press and its function in disseminating the Bible (as Gatten has noted elsewhere, the word and the Word). Much of Moxon’s consists of slide-like, white-on-black texts that compare elements of the Gutenberg Bible with other editions. But Gatten juxtaposes this exegetical model with a purely tangible, even spectacular filmic motif, a concrescence of the haptic and the optic. Portions of the Biblical texts are affixed to the film, lifted from their source with cellophane tape after Gatten has boiled the books. We see the ink, hanging together in atomic word-forms like nervous constellations, mottled and wavering in thickness. The Word, indeed, is made flesh. If the Byrd project demands that we consider how one builds textual traditions—are they merely “great conversations,” or do they consist of piles of pulp and leather, brick and mortar?—the tactility of Gatten’s work also demonstrates that attempts to transmit and fix/unfix meaning will inevitably engage a materialism that might strike some as shockingly brute. But look again, and it is in fact modernism’s hidden face, not just the “pleasure” but also the “pressure” of the text (to paraphrase both Roland Barthes and filmmaker Peter Rose).
In this regard, Gatten’s What the Water Said films are indubitably connected to his more obviously philosophical Byrd efforts. Made by submerging raw film stock in the ocean, off the coast of North Carolina near Seabrook Island (a location of personal importance in Gatten’s childhood), What the Water Said replaces cameras with crab traps, the varying movement of the sea taking the place of measured light exposure. These raw records of turbulence, salinity, available light, friction, and sometimes, direct engagement with underwater life form a kind of chemical calendar, Gatten organizing the footage by date. The colour and scratch patterns of What the Water Said, both within the relatively small spans of time of 1-3 and 4-6, and the many years between those sets (1998 and 2007), are astonishing in their physical variety. Sometimes the scratches burst like fireworks; other times emulsion scars punch white light through like popping corn. Gatten intercuts the sea footage with texts about “the life aquatic,” by the likes of Eliot, Poe, Melville, and others. But what we have, much like in the inks of the Byrd films, is a kind of cinema degree zero wherein a photochemical transaction between the celluloid and the ocean has bypassed “representation,” in any conventional sense. Instead, Gatten has allowed for a direct, para-scientific inscription of a phenomenon in time and space. And so, much like Joseph Moxon catalogued efforts to inscribe the Word of God, while detailing a material effort that actually achieved a parallel, physical history, Gatten’s sea-films provide a core sample of the ultimate in sublime knowledge, that “oceanic feeling.” We are often told, upon undertaking an investigation, that we are “just scratching the surface,” but Gatten’s materialism proposes provisional codices for reading those very surface scratches, as the front line in a Secret History.
5. David Gatten’s films display the extent to which the unspooling of a piece of celluloid in time is more than the instantiation of a potential message, but an activation of live energies which both antedate and postdate our bearing witness. The old popular model upon which so much film theory was based was Plato’s Cave; we were metaphorically chained in seats gaping at shadows, coaxed into identifying first with their figures and then with the camera-eye that organized them. Every time the What the Water Said films are shown, however, we are instead observing the record of a process that is self-sufficient and non-representational. The literary interludes serve as dialectical reminders of how both Gatten and we will struggle each time to reconcile chemical facticity with belletristic accounts based on memory and imagination. (One is reminded of Martha Rosler and her photo-essay “The Bowery in Two Inadequate Descriptive Systems.”) But the ocean-inscriptions are, in a way, merely the limit for a temporal force that permeates Gatten’s film work. Few filmmakers demand quite so much active literacy from their viewers, and so much specific facility with the English language at that. But Gatten’s work/play with text is always exactingly modulated for strict temporal control, with careful visual schemes and rhythms. The “signature” Gatten shot is that of an off-white frame (a yellowing page, perhaps) with words fading in and fading out of it, the time of reading “becoming” the time of enframed visual dictation. This manoeuvre places the films in a lineage with works like Hollis Frampton’s Poetic Justice (1972) and Michael Snow’s So Is This (1982). But of course Gatten’s use of “moveable type,” the milky, fading texts onscreen, relates more directly to the vicissitudes of history and textual materiality. But there’s more. Like the water scratches and discolourations, these wavering ink messages allude to a physical trace of something typically lost in the rush of time, in this case the incomplete speech and momentary cross-reference of textual connections in the mind. You read, your inner text sends your mental library to another spot for a synaptic footnote. Frequently this is the province not of logic but of desire. In The Address of the Eye, Vivian Sobchack argues that films themselves have “bodies,” that they are phenomenological entities instantiated in the time of their projection. They view and are viewed, and therefore have a kind of subjectivity all their own. Gatten’s cinema, then, rather like celluloid cousins to Roland Barthes’ S/Z, provides a new angle on Sobchack’s radical thesis, by offering film-bodies that are their own reading subjects. The words press into the screen, emboss it, and retract like ideas whose time is always already somewhere else, in a history perpetually eaten by the take-up reel.
6. The cinema as speech act. “I believe in you.” “You are my friend.” “I thee wed.” “I love you.” One of Gatten’s most remarkable recent films is Journals and Remarks (2009). It is comprised of 700 shots, each exactly 29 frames long. In some senses, to call this one of Gatten’s most personal films seems counterintuitive, as it is his second film to engage directly with Charles Darwin. In it, the text and illustrations of A Voyage of the Beagle are continuously juxtaposed with contemporary footage Gatten shot on a trip to the Galapagos. We see fragments of Darwin’s language, detailed etchings of tortoises and shorebirds, each followed in kind by the same animals, in living colour, quite frequently in the same postures and attitudes in which Darwin’s draughtsman captured them. In a tight, syncopated 15 minutes—the 29 frames create a kind of off-beat—Gatten forcefully splices past and present in a deceptively placid defense of Darwin’s vision of life on earth. Journals and Remarks, then, silently speaks its case. In this regard, I see it as a film with which to bridge Gatten’s text-web of historical materialism and more recent efforts which take this idea—film as a living subject, as a speaker, film as speech act—into the most humblingly personal of places. The film How to Conduct a Love Affair (2007), for example, might be seen as an isolation of that “secret” romantic marginalia of desire from the Byrd library, expanded into a general principle. In it, plaintive instructions to a would-be lover (“be patient,” for example) appear on the screen; we soon discover that the text is taken from an early conduct book, bearing the same title as the film itself. Throughout the film, Gatten alters the text through deletions and additions, eventually resulting in what appear to be direct statements in his own voice, patterned after the conduct book’s tone. What one finds here is a rather heartbreaking tension—our innermost feelings are, in the end, not that different from those of other people and, as such, subject to schematic treatment. Of course, an actual love affair exceeds these strictures, but not entirely, perhaps the way a river laps against its banks. Against these conceptual matters, Gatten provides exquisite images, the dominant one being of a heavy, wrinkled piece of canvas, hanging like a curtain but appearing to be flat against the wall. Gatten lights and frames the material to highlight shadow and texture, and the result is rather like a Warhol film-portrait of a Richard Tuttle painting. In counterpoint to this image, we see dusty, antiquarian close-ups of windowpanes, encrusted bottlenecks, and eventually superimpositions, ghostings, and painterly, near-monochrome intrusions of colour. The overall impression of Love Affair is one of constant surprise, a framework in which there is not only continually renewed promise in that which we know well, but the likelihood of something utterly unexpected just in the offing. Not bad guidelines for courtship; Love Affair begins by dictating a proper means of expressing true love, and ends by embodying and instantiating it. Love Affair (dedicated to Mary Helena Clark), then, “becomes” a loving object as it transforms in the time of its showing.  Gatten’s most recent film, The Matter Propounded, of its Possibility and Impossibility, treated in four Parts (2011), consists of a collection of Instructions, Questions, Answers, and Conclusions, all drawn from a 19th-century book on fortune telling. These phrases are rendered random when removed from context. (“Shall I ever escape from the sadness that overshadows me?” etc.) Dedicated to Phil Solomon, the film is a rearrangement of a system of organization that, once compromised, becomes poetry rather than objective or semi-objective meaning. The film, then, can have only one unadulterated message, and that is its dedication.
7. There will always be more to say. We can see this impulse—film as speech act, film as surrogate, authorized speaker—taken to its most tender extremes with Film for Invisible Ink, case no. 323: ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST (2010). Three textual systems are put into play: Western Union telegraph codes and customary Protestant wedding vows from The Book of Common Prayer are both combined with a taxonomy of speech acts by Sir Francis Bacon. As with other Gatten works, 323 once again reflects the intersection of classification systems that are self-enclosed and inscrutable to one another, the misunderstanding yielding a kind of Venn diagram of concrete poetry. The telegraph codes (“HAFIJ 62 JSLSI”) are meant to simplify and expedite vital messages. The vows (“to have and to hold”) connect quotidian effort to spiritual perpetuity. The rhetorical meta-language (“instances of ______”) measures a mind against its own impulsive intentions. The relationship between the elements is a shifting one, but the end result is a speech act in the fullest possible sense. The film, which served as Gatten’s physical wedding vows for his union to fellow filmmaker Erin Espelie, is, as they say, a living, breathing document. If you have not see 323: OUATITW yet, I am happy for you that you have this truly uplifting experience to look forward to. John Searle, for his part, would no doubt find it highly felicitous.
Thanks to Chris Stults, Aaron Cutler, and David Gatten for invaluable assistance in researching this article.  -  cinema-scope.com/


The Pleasure of the Text

By Holly Willis

Avant-garde filmmaker David Gatten transforms writing into cinema, one word at a time
I have here a small notebook filled with notes scrawled in blue ink.
a line… speech… words… our existence… it changes everything… please…  serif font now… a line of thread… light… glass… plausible answers… the rupture...
The words stack up page after page after page, often indecipherable, one phrase written over another in crooked, slanting lines. I will never know for sure which is a quotation, which a description, observation, recollection, synopsis, or note to self.
It is silent… blue paint… lines… his hand… the audacity! The idea is one of contingency…
However, to quote David Gatten—who is also the cause of this textual muddle—this is as it should be.
The notebook is a collection of traces of the extraordinary experience of viewing the 14 films that comprise “Texts of Light,” a retrospective of Gatten’s work, as well as his recently completed three-hour digital-video project, The Extravagant Shadows (12). Organized and curated by Chris Stults of the Wexner Center for the Arts, the three-part retrospective traveled across the U.S. last year, with Gatten often in attendance, and offered an opportunity to experience a body of work that is fundamentally concerned with words and things, with language and meaning, and with knowing and being. These films are revelatory expeditions to the edges of film as a medium, and they conflate the normally distinct acts of reading and watching; they are works both read by a viewer and viewed by a reader within a dynamic flux of interpretation. But, even more significant, they create the possibility for an ardent, sumptuous experience of being fully present in the dark before the screen that I don’t think I’ve ever experienced before. It’s no wonder my notes remain odd fragments: I was trying to jot down the ineffable.
The Extravagant Shadows David Gatten
The Extravagant Shadows
Gatten grew up in Greensboro, North Carolina, earned his MFA at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and now teaches for half of each year at Duke University in a program devoted to the art of the moving image. The other half of the year he lives in an old mining cabin in Colorado’s Fourmile Canyon (“10 miles from Boulder geographically, but 80 years back in time,” he says), where he makes movies and, with his wife—filmmaker, writer, and editor Erin Espelie—presents screenings for the local community as part of the Four Mile Film Society.
Since 1999, Gatten has been working on a nine-part film cycle based on texts written by William Byrd II, a historical figure in colonial America known for his humor, erudition, writing, and large collection of books, many of which were acquired by Thomas Jefferson and then the Library of Congress, contributing to the core of the United States’s intellectual history as a nation. One of the texts in particular that has inspired Gatten’s work is titled The History of the Dividing Line Betwixt Virginia and North Carolina, which chronicles a trip made by Byrd in 1728 as he surveyed the boundary between the two states. However, Byrd also wrote another, satirical account of that trip titled The Secret History of the Dividing Line. Together, the two works immediately invite reflections on the nature of words, texts, histories, and boundary lines, the very elements that constitute the dazzling films thus far completed for the series.
In the 20-minute Secret History of the Dividing Line (02), viewers encounter a white line dividing a black screen, and a timeline with dates passing by, some quickly, some slowly; the stripes that split the screen are so striking that they create an afterimage effect, and we begin to see grooves that are not actually present. As the film progresses, we also begin to see the texture of the lines, which expand into rifts and fissures akin to those of a jagged landscape.
The words on screen often pass by too quickly to read or comprehend in full, and in other films we view words as inscriptions, textures, and forms, not as transparent carriers of meaning. In his introduction to the first screening of the retrospective in Los Angeles, Gatten helped assuage some nervousness about this inability to fully grasp everything that appeared on screen. “There will be a lot of words in these films,” he explained, speaking with characteristic precision. “You won’t be able to read all of these words. I expect that this will provoke anxiety. That is as it should be.”
Secret History of the Dividing Line David Gatten
The Great Art of Knowing
This anxiety, Gatten explained later in an interview, is significant: “The enjoyment of reading and the anxiety of not being able to read are the two sides of the coin: you can’t have one without the other.” Gatten said that much of his early work was dedicated to the play of that pleasure and discomfort, but notes that his later films address visual language differently.
“I have moved in a few of the re-cent works to language that is not difficult because it is not available physically; it is that it’s more abstract. The questions become, ‘How does one get from one piece of legible language to the other piece of legible language?’ and ‘How does meaning accrue between those legible things?’ It’s less now about physical, visible legibility and more, I think, conceptual legibility or illegibility.” He added: “I don’t know where that’s going to go.”
Gatten’s work weaves together disparate influences, including the philosophical explorations of systems, linguistic paradoxes, and ontological queries characteristic of Ludwig Wittgenstein, J.L. Austin, and Maurice Blanchot. “Cinema can be a process, a tool for the practice of philosophy, as practice for life,” he explained. He also seems to share a fascination with a sense of the everyday, not as in the quotidian so much as in the practice of “dailiness” articulated by Gertrude Stein and central to the Modernist literary tradition, and he speaks of the pleasure of working slowly, “in a considered way,” as he puts it.
Gatten is also connected to several traditions within American avant-garde film history. His fascination with systems links him to filmmakers as diverse as Stan Brakhage and Hollis Frampton, for example, each of whom also crafted large-scale film cycles that promised a conceptual unity, only to systematically undermine it. The precise structures of several of his films have affinities with the work of James Benning and Sharon Lockhart. He also joins a long history of avant-garde filmmakers dedicated to an exploration of the medium itself—Ernie Gehr, for example—and he is deeply attuned to the material act of the filmmaking process.
Gatten recalled one experience when he was working on his first film, Hardwood Process (96): “I was making some cement splices and some tape splices and I saw that in one of my tape splices when I was looking at it frame by frame there was a tremendous amount of dust over the course of three frames, and it made this beautiful little burst of energy. So I started taking lengths of cellophane tape and going around the apartment in Chicago and lifting up dust off of the floor, off of the sofa, wherever it was. I was using tape to gather this stuff and then making contact prints in the darkroom. So I had long passages in Hardwood Process that are produced entirely by dust.”
This unusual strategy was extended when one of the pieces of tape came into contact with a bit of newspaper and black, inky words appeared on the clear cellophane. “That was the eureka moment,” Gatten said. “I spent the next year with tape and the Sunday Tribune making these ink-and-tape emulsions where the tape goes on the paper, I rub it down, I soak it in warm water, and, after an hour or two, the pulp starts to fall away and the glue from the tape soaks up the ink and that is now the negative. I register that on clear film leader, go to the darkroom, and make a print of it.”
He continued: “I didn’t have any ideas. I just had a process. But I enjoyed the process. It was a therapeutic weekly reading ritual with the Sunday paper and I started thinking about print culture and book collecting and this process led me back to Gutenberg’s printing press, and to movable type, and it seemed that the appropriate text to dismantle was Gutenberg’s bible, to go back to that moment when he fixed the word in a particular way and then to unfix it.”
The process produced a film, Moxon’s Mechanick Exercises, or, The Doctrine of Handy-Works Applied to the Art of Printing (99), which is based on Joseph Moxon’s 1703 account of the printing press. “I was thinking about the transition in print culture from scribal reproduction to mechanical reproduction as a way of thinking about what was happening in the late Nineties in terms of the transition in moving-image culture from sprocketed media to digital media,” Gatten explained. “I wanted to look back at this earlier transition, and to work with the material through this process.”
Moxon’s Mechanick Exercises, or, The Doctrine of Handy-Works Applied to the Art of Printing David Gatten
The Great Art of Knowing
Gatten’s experiments with tape led him to use the scraper of his cement splicer not to edit but to make images—the ragged landscapes in Secret History of the Dividing Line, for example, were made by scraping. “The idea of working physically with editing materials—with the tape and cement splicer—to actually produce images, not to edit, was for me a revelation.” Gatten added that this experimentation occurred almost simultaneously with another adventure. “That was when I was also throwing the first batch of film into the ocean and letting the emulsion itself register the world,” he recalled, referring to works in the series titled What the Water Said (98-07), which indeed were made by throwing film stock overboard and letting sand, rocks, waves, and crabs “make” the movie. These experiments were followed by Gatten’s exploration of the potential of an optical printer, which he used not for rephotographing imagery but for registering things like pine pollen and small flowers (as in the imagery for 2010’s Once Upon a Time in the West, part of a series titled Films for Invisible Ink, which also explore word and image).
But how does a man who happily spends his days scraping and taping individual frames of film stock to make quiet short films end up making a three-hour digital feature, one that is punctuated by four pop songs? Gatten answered by recalling his interest in computers as a teenager, but went on to explain that he knew he would eventually work with video because he wanted to work with very long takes, and with very slow fades. Video formats came and went between the project’s start in 1998 and February 2012, when Gatten totally reshot and reconceived the entire project using a Nikon DSLR.
The result, The Extravagant Shadows, is nothing short of stunning. It opens with Merrilee Rush’s hauntingly wistful “Angel of the Morning,” which plays in darkness. The song ends and we see the colorful spines of a line of books: The Count of Monte Cristo, Nicholas Nickleby, The Love Letters of Abelard and Heloise… Something seems to wipe across the frame and the image clouds slightly, and then the blurred reflection of Gatten can be glimpsed, on what appears to be glass. A hand with a paintbrush appears, and paints across the surface of the image with light yellow paint. The paint dries slowly, its sheen diminishing and the color slowly fading. The hand and brush reappear, and blue paint covers the surface of the image. The paint dries, the shine dulls, the color dims. Then words begin to fade in as if from beneath the paint, and then fade out. The words are bits of philosophical musing, and later, a dramatic account of love and loss drawn from the works of Henry James.
The Great Art of Looking David Gatten
“I had no intention of making a long movie in 2012,” Gatten admitted, noting that he was far too busy with the retrospective and his teaching. However, the digital workflow allowed for an entirely new kind of process. “I didn’t have the satisfaction of the dark room and the rewinds and the splicer, which to me is this very satisfying physical process that goes alongside the aesthetic thinking and conceptual work of a film,” he said.
“This was sitting at a computer and it was clicking things, and that was not poetic but it was satisfying in its results and in the level of control,” Gatten continued. “I have bad handwriting, and I don’t write in a journal—I write on the computer. So working on a computer on images made me feel like I was in that writing realm, but also the material resistance is so much less in the digital realm. Film can be a royal pain. It can be very beautiful and very satisfying, but it can also be very frustrating. I felt like I was able to go directly into some conceptual realm and that I wasn’t having to fight through the material resistance of celluloid, and that threw the focus of the work onto the actual writing.”
He concluded: “There is a lot of writing in The Extravagant Shadows, and working digitally gave me the space to develop that writing; I hadn’t had the space or the inclination to do this working in celluloid.”
The Extravagant Shadows layers a deep awareness of what’s happening off screen with what we’re seeing on screen, and of what we imagine to be the digital manipulation of the image with the addition of the text. In this way, it represents the concatenation of spaces and times that comprise a digital culture. But rather than inviting the distraction and browsing that often characterize the digital interface, the film provokes a profound experience of presence. We are called forth as subjects, and as beings uniquely able to make connections, understand relations, and produce meaning. We are no longer spectators, witnesses, viewers, readers, or users. We become entirely present: upright, astute, yearning, human.
We become present.
We become as we should be. - filmcomment.com/

Love in the Painted Image

With the propensity, if not the overt mission, for contemporary film festivals to project just about anything they can get their hands on digitally, I couldn't help view the beginning of David Gatten's new work at the New York Film Festival, The Extravagant Shadows, with a moment of bemused shock, if not suppressed, ironical horror. Playing in the Views from the Avant-Garde sidebar, the first image of Gatten's first work in digital video is of a closely cropped bookshelf. After a moment, a glass panel, perhaps the bookcase or cabinet door, is slid into the frame in front of the spines, and in its reflection we see both the filmmaker and his DSLR on its tripod. Gatten leaves the frame and we stare, face to lens, at the books impeded by a pane in which we see the image of the recording of its impediment. And then a brush reaches into frame and begins to paint over the glass, stroke by stroke, then color by color, layer by layer until the image of the books is entirely wiped away.
At nearly three hours, the vast majority of The Extravagant Shadow's image features a hand methodically applying vibrant, quick-drying layers between us and the books, and one can feel, millimeter by millimeter, as the layers steadily, even discernibly get closer to the camera lens, the microscopic yet impenetrable distance between the camera and its original material content. Yet very quickly, the layers replace the books as the image's content and interest, and whatever promise the books suggested becomes lost behind countless planes of digital shades and hues.
This distance between us and the books' repositories is made up for by Gatten, who, in a method common to his film-films, lays long excerpts, condensations, and re-writings of text upon the image itself, so that looking at the image is as much about seeing as it is reading—if these two activities can even be separated. The text tells a looping, broken and elliptical tale of love across distances, love missed and time passed, of communicating via letter, manuscript, telegraph (and, implicitly despite the late 19th, early 20th century setting, Twitter), notes, novelization, monologues and memories across and within these spaces. Of the lost meanings, allusive facts and fixtures, of the supreme ambiguity of purposes, of a sense of time, of narrative to be found between, around and inside text and its transmissions to the reader.
The effect is, if you pardon me, extravagantly digital: the texts fade in and out with a suppleness that can only be the result of gradation changes in pixels, so the texts don't seem laid upon the image as much as literally emerging from it. Likewise, changes in the light conditions of the room in which the glass pane is painted—and it is painted, and dries, and is painted again in real time—modulate the colors on the screen in a way that has nothing to do with the way light changes and colors fluctuate accordingly when captured on celluloid. The color flow seems to be coming imperceptibly from within the generated image rather than implanted upon the film strip. Colors seem to morph naturally, inexorably, intrinsically, with utter fluidity—the  color is suddenly different, an image not of a path of light across the frame, a movement, but rather of a blushing change.
Since the paint is quick-drying, we also witness the change in texture of the painted surface itself, along with the evolution of the light conditions, so cracks, welts, smashed gnats, ripples and other distortions become apparent second by second. These changes—in light/color, texture—are often happening at the same time Gatten is fading in, or out, long excerpts of text, and the result is that as your eye scans the text to read it, “behind” the text the “background” seems to be changing with your reading. It is almost as if you, the viewer, are changing the image through the act of reading, which dovetails into the text's mysterious evocation of almost/not-quite/happenstance/erstwhile relationships: the act of reading, of seeing, is so quicksilver that it changes the nature of the subject being seen, read, and the reading's subject, the love, the memory.
It was impossible not to contemplate with this leisurely movie full of time passing—not to mention its evidence of what we lose through the passing of time, though, also, what we gain, moment by moment as each "layer" (text, color) of "distance" (the written word, the communication, paint) gains its own poetry of miss-aligned expressivity—this continued, sensorily endless distance so carefully, fully pronounced by the work as a digital phenomenon. The texts in The Extravagant Shadows clearly predate any such thing, but one cannot separate them from their presentation and their existence contained within the digital image, especially as Gatten has so specifically (re)composed them. In the integration of these texts and their story(/ies) into this digital work, into the books, spines, glass, and paints, they become one, existing within the layers between the us and what is in books—the mysterious origin subject of The Extravagant Shadows that becomes farther and father out of reach, yet is conjured, slantwise, by this special movie's special means. - mubi.com/

What the ocean saw: David Gatten's films at NCSU

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N.C. State University
Caldwell Hall G107, 2221 Hillsborough St.
Fri., Feb. 15, 5-7:30 p.m.

This is the true story of how the ocean made a movie.
To be more precise, filmmaker David Gatten collaborated on a movie with the Atlantic Ocean, where the Edisto River empties its freshwater into the ocean’s salt along the South Carolina coast. Gatten put unexposed 16mm film stock into a crab trap, tied the ends of a 50-foot rope to the trap and his ankle, and dropped it into the water.

from How to Conduct a Love Affair
 (2007), David Gatten
After a while, he pulled it out and printed it. He didn’t develop it. He didn’t record sound, leaving the optical sound strip on the film to the mercy of the underwater elements. Basically he just put it in a projector. That’s What the Water Said.
“The ocean made the movie,” Gatten says. “The exposure, the processing, the chemistry, the physical interaction—everything—was entirely the ocean. I didn’t do anything other than decide how long it should be in the water, at high tide, ebb tide, low tide. And how much film I was going to put in. The ocean and crabs decided how much film I was going to get back. They did the editing. They did the sound. I was the producer.”
Gatten made three such films in 1998, returning to the South Carolina coast in 2007 to make three more. This more recent set, along with five other 16-mm films from his acclaimed career, will be screened in a mini-retrospective on Friday evening at N.C. State.
It’s a rare chance to see the work of one of the country’s foremost experimental filmmakers with Gatten at the projector’s controls. In his omnipresent overalls, he’ll introduce the films, something he doesn’t often get to do but considers an integral part of the screening. Neither dramatic nor scripted nor off-the-cuff, he nonetheless sets the films up with a precise, evocative monologue before bringing the screen to life an exact beat after he stops talking. A screening is a performance, to his mind.
Gatten’s a heavy hitter, but in a league that doesn’t play on Netflix and YouTube. A Film Comment critics’ poll listed him among the top 10 avant-garde filmmakers at the dawn of this millennium. He’s a Guggenheim fellow and shows work in Whitney Biennials, as well as many museums and film festivals of note. His nearly three-hour digital video work, The Extravagant Shadows, premiered at the 50th annual New York Film Festival last fall.
Currently an artist-in-residence at Duke’s Program in Arts of the Moving Image, Gatten has been working with students in the MFA program in experimental documentary arts, now in its second year.
What the Water Said, in this realm, is considered the most literal documentary film or representational art possible, recalling Hiroshi Sugimoto’s photographs (the word “photograph” meaning “light writing,” after all) made not with a camera but by submerging film in a tank of water through which a massive electrical charge is passed.

film strip from What the Water Said: 4-6 (2007), David Gatten
Lowering a camera and microphone into the ocean would record footage of the ocean, but with the mediation of the filmmaker’s hand in choices of camera, film stock, development, editing and so forth. Gatten forgoes these choices, leaving the mark-making to reality itself, as a way of implicating the conventions we’ve bundled and named as representational art.
Refuting those photographic conventions, Gatten’s primarily structuralist concerns are with film’s materiality and textuality, which might sound like it could make for cold, academic viewing. Some structural films are, frankly, more interesting to read about than to watch. But even though several of the other films he’s screening at NCSU show much more text than image onscreen, Gatten accomplishes deeply personal and emotional statements.
He made Film for Invisible Ink, case no. 323: ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST (2010) as his wedding vows. Not to project while he said his vows—the film was his vows. It’s as unconventional an epithalamium as you’ll ever see, but powerfully sincere and substantial.
When they’re not teaching at Duke, Gatten and his wife, the filmmaker and writer Erin Espelie (her "Silent Springs," a meditation upon Rachel Carson's work, screened at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival last year), live in a pair of joined cabins outside a tiny mining town (population: “about 47”) in Four Mile Canyon in Colorado. Initially, they considered a traditional wedding with guests and a cake and so forth. But in Colorado, if you are a man and a woman, you can legally marry merely by saying “we’re married,” signing a certificate, and mailing it in to the state. Neither witness nor licensed official are required. The intimacy of this option appealed to Gatten and Espelie, so they made their 2010 ceremony their own.
“We decided that on the 23rd of July, we would walk down the road to the old church at midnight and say our vows to each other. And we would be married and then we would get on a plane and fly to Venice and be on a sailboat. So we prepared our vows in secret. I went down to the church earlier in the evening to set up a 16mm film projector because I did not speak at our wedding. But I had made a film. So when Erin walked in the room at our wedding, this is what she saw.”
What Erin saw begins as black text materializing and dematerializing, through rack focus, upon a white field. After a brief explanatory introduction, the text, which initially comes from the antiquated five-letter Western Union Telegraphic Code, condenses into legibility and then dissipates, establishing a visual pulse to match the slight throb of the ambient soundtrack.
At the top of the screen you see the Western Union code: for example, “HAFBA 39 JSVKV.” Beneath that, a second mode of writing appears, which seems like a translation of the code. Phrases like “is the instance remarkable?” or “is there any other instance?” fade into and out of view. Gradually a third mode of text is added at the bottom of the screen, in italics, which seems to comment upon the translated phrases.
The reading demand of Gatten’s film is high, but that’s so for all rewarding poetic texts. The rhythm of these appearances—the nonlinguistic but literal telegraphic code, its factoid explanation, and its implicative significance—teaches you how to read them. And the matching pulse of the sound, which comes from the overexposed frame bleeding over into the optical soundtrack, adds a communicative lull. It sounds like the ringing of a telephone in the old pre-touch-tone days when you’d sometimes catch the ghost of the neighbor’s phone dialing or ringing on your line.
The second section of Invisible Ink provides the first imagery of the film. Large black chunks appear onscreen, followed by plant forms like flowers and fronds. Gatten moves from image to image quickly, but not without a luxuriant focus through their depth, as if you’re looking at footage of a microscope viewing. The chunks, as it turns out, are pollen that he collected from the air outside his studio by hanging up strips of cellophane tape. Using an optical printer, he enlarged them significantly while picking up the thickness of the film stock and tape, as well as whatever air bubbles were caught in between. There’s a joyful explosion of structure in moving through the three-dimensionality of the pollen spores.
“There’s probably some relief in not having to read after having read for a while,” Gatten says of the section. “You get to go into a world where language is left behind. And some things are nameable and other things are unnameable, in that space. So for me it is exultation and joy and doesn’t carry in it the anxiety of reading or not being able to read, of making sense or not being able to make sense of the collision of two legible pieces of language.”
“I hope it provides a sort of release and pleasure. It’s a different kind of pleasure from the pleasure that comes from comprehending language.”
The film closes with another section of language in which Gatten pairs the familiar “to have and to hold” phrases of traditional wedding vows with the second, phrasal translations from before. “In sickness and in health” becomes “instances of refuge;” “To cherish and protect” becomes “powerful instances.” After the Common Prayer vows are completed, Gatten shows a few epigrams and lists his sources in a footnote section to close.
Overall, Invisible Ink fuses many modes of communication relevant to Gatten’s and Espelie’s matrimonial moment. The coded, telegraphic mode that was so valuable on the expanding frontier and for isolated spots like their mining town locates them in their home in Colorado. The pollen and plant life references a sexual and reproductive mode. And the film as a whole serves as a third kind of connective communication: vows. It’s a beautiful document.
Gatten’s body of work still seems to be gathering momentum. He’s developed from the aleatory What the Water Said, coming from chance-operation traditions in the literary and visual arts as well as materials-oriented film predecessors like Stan Brakhage’s Mothlight, through the layered Invisible Ink, which forges a unique vocabulary neither solely visual nor textual, into the epic, meditative The Extravagant Shadows. Although that last, most recent film won’t be screened at NCSU, this event affords the opportunity to see some of the most intentional and considered work today in any art form, projected by an artist who you’ll likely want to follow henceforth. - www.indyweek.com/


By David Phelps

The pure products of America have to be compartmentalized—no zeitgeist seems more predominant for a class of bohemian riche (me too, cf. here) than classification, a kind of aesthetic of rational order without the hassle of rational inquiry, found everywhere from the Wes Anderson characters categorizing their personalities like the books on their shelves, to the Tarantino filing-cabinet plot of neatly-motivational sub-narratives catalogued in larger stories, each plotline an artifact of a gargantuan narrative archeology, to movie posters like this one. The system reigns—as Avatar and Inception have to give half their running times to tutorials explaining how their rules of their nonsensical universe work—and the sign is #reified: books are judged by their covers, as the world, in these films, is converted into a series of icons a click away. The crux of the whole trend is probably the iPad, whose iBooks app, simulating a wooden bookshelf on a flattened screen, conjures one’s personal canon with the touch of a finger. The perfect mind, repository of all the eons’ knowledge and unruffled by the nuisances of an outlying reality in an age of war, can be displaced into a user-friendly interface for anyone with about $700 bucks to spare.
But because things are never neat, it’s the all-analogue David Gatten, a man whose own filmmaking interests might be classified in hashtag-like thematics as nature, ink, and film, who’s made the digital The Extravagant Shadows, a movie whose own aesthetic initially seems straight-up iBooks: a shot of books on a bookshelf precipitates the pull-quoting of literary quotes (James, Blanchot, Stevens, etc.) on screen for the film’s three hours, as a hand paints over the bookcase swaths of single colors (each of these, too, might be neatly classified). As literary lessons, however, the quotes are teasingly inadequate: bastardized composites of different passages, the words fade in and out apart from their sentences as though half-recalled, half-reshaped suggestions of a system flaring in and out of visibility (Gatten wrote many of the passages himself). As always in Gatten, the film flirts with its own design, visual and otherwise, as a system: the human hand painting is, after all, both its author and its agent; the system itself is both a flailing approximation of an all-too-virtual mechanism and all-too-human consciousness. But the hints of a larger system signal both its infinite perpetuation as well as its semantic breakdown into its elements suspended apart from one another. The word outstrips the sentence, and the design outstrips the system: the virtual text takes on compositional weight, and the flattened colors of flattened digital take on a variegated texture across the screen. As an ultra-virtual movie, it turns itself inside out; what’s left is simply what’s there. I talked with Gatten around midnight last October at Views from the Avant-Garde in New York, a couple nights after the movie’s premiere.
Desistfilm: I was thinking maybe we could start with Henry James.
David Gatten: Very good.
D: I don’t want to make you give up any magician’s secrets—sources, etc.—that you don’t want to reveal, but the title “The Extravagant Shadows,” I believe, is taken from “The Jolly Corner.” And if I’m not mistaken, just going off my own recollections, a lot of the first material sounds like—or looks like—“In the Cage,” James’ story about the telegraph operator.
G: There are many different writers whose words I use in this piece—foremost among them certainly is James. If I had to do a percentage breakdown, I’d say that somewhere between 65 and 70 percent of it I wrote myself, but 25 percent of it is Henry James, 3 percent of it is Maurice Blanchot, and a percentage is Stefan Zweig an Wallace Stevens.
D: These are not the writers who are on the bookshelf, though, that we see at the beginning—only James.
G: That’s correct. They are not the writers’ books you see on the shelf.
D: So I’m trying to remember—the writers we see on the bookshelf are more skewed towards the 19th century.
G: And there’s also a range of different kinds of articulation of language. On the far left, there’s Henry James, which I consider to be as good as it gets: as articulate, as interesting, as labyrinthian—as careful a use of language as you can get to. We proceed through some classic love letters, Heloise-Abelard, a great sequence of love letters, Charles Dickens, who also I think deploys language in very beautiful ways to tell stories. But then we move away from people that we like to consider literary greats into more genre-type materials, and finally almost pulp materials.
D: And this is the progression across the bookshelf?
G: And this is the progression across. We have in the middle two works by Marion Harland, including one called His Great Self—which I will leave you to ascertain the significance of in terms of my overall body of work as a filmmaker, particularly in terms of my concerns with William Byrd. We then finally move into a sort of silly book, The Lover’s Replies to an Englishwoman’s Love Letters. So that bookshelf exists both as a visual representation of certain kinds of spines—it’s about color and texture—but it’s also about different kinds of language articulations, from the most complicated to the simplest.

D: But we’re not seeing those books suddenly come forth on screen.
G: We are not. No, that image exists as an idea on its own. The Extravagant Shadows, the words that come through the paint, are not from those books—they are from the larger book that is the collection of all Western literature. And it is in fact not all Western literature: there is a small passage from Liu Yichang’s 1972 novella Intersection, which figures in another, in my estimation very great, film of the 21st century.
D: Whoa—which film is this?
G: I will leave that also to your own research. It is a film from 2000.
D: I’ve got googling to do.
G: So I hope you will enjoy the search.
D: Hah, yes—each word leaves us off on a thousand signals.
G: But all of it comes back to James for me. And “The Extravagant Shadows” is indeed a phrase from “The Jolly Corner,” and I use many, many phrases from James throughout in what I call a “panel” of text, which is an entire screen or block of text. And in any given panel there are probably at least three James phrases, and many complete James sentences. And in fact the very first panel in the first story is entirely James, and the final panel of all of the text in the movie is James intact and untouched from a speech he gave at Bryn Mawr
. In between, I’m taking fragments of James, situations of James’, characters of James’, and putting them into new stories, and interweaving these stories through my own writing in, I believe, James’ voice.
D: It’s a very Jamesian thing to do, too, that kind of interweaving of these different consciousnesses. Well—part of what’s amazing about The Extravagant Shadows is that it takes up cinema as a hybrid of painting, literature, and music, each of which is atomized, each given their own place. So I guess we could start by thinking about it as a literary work, because that’s my background, and it’s always easier to talk about words.
G: Sure—yes.
D: But thinking about the issue of determinacy, which I believe crops up a lot in the film. What’s the phrase that keeps coming up? “The place of meaning”?
G: I don’t know!
D: Well, there’s another point in the film where it talks about a word that can only mean one thing—and that would be the ultimate word, because it only signifies a single thing and becomes the thing itself.
G: Yes—and that’s Wallace Stevens.
D: But this is the opposite of Henry James in so many ways—who will not approach anything directly but will only proceed through the metaphor and sometimes the metaphor of the metaphor. The Jolly Corner is a good example: a person walks around a house and it’s a detective story only metaphorically. And yet that abstraction of it becomes the subject itself whereas the thing that’s happening is only the excuse for the subject.
G: And in Stevens, the idea of “description without place” is similar—
D: “Description without place!” That’s the phrase.
Gatten: —but can be thought of as the flipside, I think. And in all cases with James, with Stevens, with Blanchot, I’m trying to follow a procedure that I’ve been working with for over a decade and that I call “condensation.” And that is taking an existing text and making a container that will pull things out of the air—that will extract certain essences from a text and reconstitute them in a different shape.
D: So it’s almost like a machine of meaning, that can take materials from all sides.
Gatten: Like a glass of cold water on a humid day. The water vapor in the air becomes liquid when it attaches to this container.
D: So it’s actual condensation.
G: It’s actual condensation. So what words come out of the air—how can I pull some words and ideas together. “Description without place” is a very long poem by Wallace Stevens, and I’ve condensed it to 24 lines to get at what I believe is its essence—now I’m leaving out a lot of nuance.

D: Which is always the accusation against cinema—that it takes literature and just bowdlerizes it to the essential.
G: And that’s—I’m comfortable with that. I don’t think that has to be bad. And that is the way I would attempt to make new meanings out of existing texts, as well as to misread existing texts.
D: So it’s almost like a reverse pun, where instead of taking one word and getting five meanings out of it, you take five meanings and find some way to bring them back to a single word, a single phrase, a single panel.
G: Yes—yes.
D: But this again goes against the other idea of the film in which we would find the word that is only the thing that it represents. There’s almost no mimesis, no imitation; nothing represents anything other than what it is—a color is just a color, and the color being painted is the color of the film. At most there are signals: even once you get the word, it’s just another signal.
G: So yes, you’re right—there are two very different ideas. But what they have in common is that they’re taking care with language. And I’m reluctant to pin down at this point what this film is about, but if I had to, I would say that it is most essentially about taking care with language.
Ds: Like the Heidegger term.
Gatten: Uh-huh.
D: I’m sorting through this.
G: Yes, yes, please! It’s a lot to sort through.
D: It’s a lot to sort through. Let’s go on to the—visual?—if we can. I guess just to recap the film—I think it’s important to recap the film, because I have a feeling that when I recap it you might not agree.
G: Oh, that’s the most interesting thing there is.

D: So I’m curious about saying what seemed so obviously to be happening.
G: Good, good.
D: For example, I read some report that said it was three hour real-time painting, and I said, no, that’s not what it is, that’s absolutely not at all what I watched! For me, what I saw is: we have a song; we have a bookshelf, which is the screen itself, as the spines of the book compose the screen; a glass door closes on it, and we see your reflection filming; a paintbrush comes out and starts to paint, and what happens is that the vertical space that we had with the spines now becomes a horizontal space of a page and the painting; we stay in this horizontal space for the next almost-three hours as each new layer of play brings forth the words that were edited into it in post-production; they fade back in; another layer of paint is added, but that layer of paint is also fading in and out with the previous layer, so we have both the words and the paint itself fading in and out of the lower layer; another panel of words; and so on. There’s one song at one point, then one song at another point, then three songs at another?
G: A song at the beginning; a song in the middle; three songs towards the end. There’s five total. All from 1968, from a single album, all Merrilee Rush. “Angel of the Morning” is the album, and that is of course the most famous song from that album.
D: And finally the door opens back up, and we see the books again, and that’s the ending of the film. So my own sense while watching that is that we’re watching a highly edited film in which we’re seeing each layer of paint in a dissolve over the time it takes to dry, but there’s also some sort of editing that is bringing out the previous layer of paint in little dashes and strokes, and bringing them to the foreground to get this incredibly heightened contrast between the two layers of paint. So that at all moments we’re in between layers, even when we think we’re looking at a new layer, we’re still in between layers. Which for me works as a kind of amazing crystallization of the digital editing process—you work in Final Cut Pro, you work in layers, in “tracks,” and with each track you can change the opacity to make a mixture of two layers in which it’s impossible to tell which is on top and which is on bottom. And adding these layers of paint is a kind of form of editing in which we’re always caught between these two layers.

G: And that in fact is a function not of digital editing, but of the fact that I ultimately did layers of an oil-based sign painting enamel paint, what Eric Gill would have used to paint the window in 1926, with acrylic paints. And those do not like each other: they are not supposed to be used together. The acrylic dries much, much faster. We are in fact looking at things in real time. And I was doing all of the painting in Colorado, where the relative humidity up at 7,000 feet is extremely low in the month of June, and so I’m putting this paint on, and within seconds, it is drying, cracking, blistering, and revealing the layer underneath. So there is nothing that’s being done digitally in post-production to enhance that: that’s an actual physical reaction that occurred in front of my eyes.
D: So you made a Final Cut Pro-edited film without editing—that’s my theory.
G: There’s very little editing involved—
D: There’s a little bit.
G: There’s a little bit. I mean, there were moments when, because I’m using a camera with a certain size memory card, I had only a 20 minute take. And so the paint would dry, and I would already be applying the next layer at the four minute mark. So I could go maybe four layers of paint.
D: And you could actually paint while standing, and the paint is never dripping, it’s always sticking.
Gatten: Yeah—yeah.
D: And you still have the panel?
Gatten: I have the single panel with all these layers of paint.
D: How thick is the panel?
G: It’s not super-thick. It’s not like an inch, or even half-an-inch thick—it’s like a quarter-inch thick. So it is literally putting the paint on and letting it dry, and depending how thickly I put on the acrylic, you get more or less of the enamel bleeding through. And when I put on the next layer of enamel, you don’t get a bleed-through. If I put the enamel on before the acrylic is totally dry, then you get a smearing, you get a different kind of visible layer in your paint. So I had to really learn how to work with these paints as materials.
D: Do you paint a lot normally?
G [laughing]: No, this was the first time ever! I learned a lot about painting in a very short amount of time. This was the third take.
D: And the font is stable, but their colors change.
G: The fonts—I use Eric Gill’s sans-serif font, “Gill Sans,” for most of it, and then I use “Perpetua” for some of it—which is another of Eric Gill’s fonts. And then there is one small section that is “Baskerville,” which both and “Perpetua” and “Gill Sans” used as an important precursor, thinking about certain proportions and shapes. So there are different typefaces for different voices in the movie.
D: But of course once you find the word, it doesn’t contain any meaning in of itself, but signals out. So as soon as you try to fix a meaning, it dissolves instead—which could be a description of the film itself. As soon as the color dries, it’s not fixed, but still dissolved. Even when the word is set in one typeface, it might have been set in another—which would have a different meaning.
G: That’s correct.
D: So the words are objects, which is what I love. Because the characters and words are looking to have a fixed meaning, and when you treat the word as an object, it is a fixed meaning, but one which might have been open up to infinite other forms and understandings. I know Tom Gunning’s mentioned Michael Snow’s So Is This—maybe the ultimate film to treat words as objects—as a predecessor, but I wonder how else you see yourself in a tradition.
G: I see myself very much in a tradition of the American avant-garde cinema. I think a lot about the work of Stan Brakhage, a lot about the work of Hollis Frampton. Those are for me two of the very important people whose cinema I admire and I’m interested in their ideas—they have very different ideas about how language functions in relation to perception, certainly. And ultimately I’ve fallen down on the Framptonian side of things. His work, particularly his film Gloria, I think are very important reference points, touchstones, for me, and his use of music in Gloria was a model for my use of music in The Extravagant Shadows. Because he doesn’t just use a song—he sets you up to have a recognition when that song occurs. Because in those 16 statements, one of them has his grandmother describing a song played at her wedding, that she says sounded like “the quacking of ducks,” called “Lady Bonaparte.” This is just one of those 16 things he remembers. And minutes later, we get a soundtrack with a green screen: a song called “Lady Bonaparte” that sounds like the quacking of ducks. And so it’s not just music that comes in, but music that means something to us in a memorial sense when it arrives.
D: So you could see this a couple ways. You could say that the words precipitate this moment, set it up, but you could also say—and maybe it’s the more obvious interpretation—that the song is not an extension but a break from the words, that the movie gives you these supposed facts, but that finally there’s something beyond fact.
G: Yes, yes. For sure.
D: Even though Frampton is still using these elements not as an experience of the thing itself, but as a language that points back towards his mother. So it’s a different version of the song, and instead of seeing her, we see a film of “Finnegan’s Wake” he found in the archives that becomes a language unit signaling beyond itself and signifying her. But then the whole thing shows a breakdown of fixed meanings into lived experience—how is Extravagant Shadows cuing us towards the songs?
G: The lyrics appear in the first half of the film—
D: No way—did I totally miss this?
G: —well it’s not that evident. And then they continue to appear after “Angel of the Morning” has played. And people definitely came up to me and remarked upon this. “And then when the lyrics started to appear!” People seemed gratified by that as a recognition.
D: It’s like a Pavlovian reaction. You trained your audience.
G: So in that way, the Frampton’s—it’s not just the use of music, but a very specific way of using music to let meaning accrue and to produce a recognition, to plant something that is going to flower later.
D: Off the cuff, since we’re talking informally, how would you pit Brakhage against Frampton in terms of language/image?
G: Well I think in general Brakhage was in search of a way of seeing, as he believed, as he stated in Metaphors on Vision, “how many colors are there in a field of grass to a crawling baby unaware of the word green?” He thought that language, the ability to name something, actually prevented you from seeing, because you had an idea, a preconceived notion, that prevented you from actually seeing a fully perceptual experience and seeing all the nuances present. Frampton replies, in Zorns Lemma, beginning his film in the dark, in which we hear the text read of The Bay State Primer, the first text used to instruct children in “the colonies” how to read. And once we have acquired language, we have an image. Our first image is the alphabet, 24 letters of the alphabet—the Greek alphabet, not the full 26—and then we are out into the world, and what we see in the world are words. Gradually, once we have acquired a facility with language, those begin to be replaced by images, without words in them.
D: So is an image a more determinate language, then, or a less determinate language?
G: We can’t see until we can name things. Brakhage thinks naming prevents seeing; Frampton thinks naming enables seeing.
D: But both of them are enamored of puns, right?
G: For sure—they both love language. There’s no question they both love language and poetry and all.
D: But a pun trusts a word to break its own boundaries and signal anything else, which is what any image can do, Kuleshov-effect-like: any image can mean almost anything next to another image. But you’re moving towards a language in which the system would be rigorous enough that the language would unfix itself—I guess we could say? Which would be very Framptonian.
G: I—I am at this point—I try not to think too hard about that when I’m doing something. I think that later, but that’s not what I think about that day when I’m at the studio.

D: Do you mean you painted, and then you found the words?
G: No, no—I spent 12 years writing the text. And, you know, the whole project was a 14 year project. So I spent a lot of time writing long in advance of making those specific images—I made other images along the way, on videotape, that I discarded. For 12 years, I was discarding things, while I was writing, and it was only really in the last 18 months, in the last 9 months even, that I started the painting, and became specifically interested in the architecture of those rooms that exist at the center of the film, where we actually leave the painted surface and enter into true architectural spaces for about 20 minutes when the sound comes in. Color and paint came in late to this project.
D: You mean when we hear the birds—and suddenly we’re in a figurative space?
G: Yes—so I like very much your reading of the film and how it relates to Frampton, but I try not to follow too much of a roadmap in terms of the larger conceptual and theoretical implications of the work.
D: Well it’s a mystery too.
G: Yeah: it’s a mystery to me how it all happens. And then—a year from now?—I will have a much clearer sense of what happened on Friday night and what this object is that I finally finished making. This was the first public screening for me, first public screening for the work, first time I’ve seen it projected large all the way through, so I am now becoming a viewer of this work myself.
D: And what’s your feeling?
G: Well I had a very good experience. I felt very happy about the room, and I had a powerful experience of the work myself. It did—it did what I hoped it would do, and then it did things that I hadn’t expected it to do.
D: Can you give an example?
G: I probably can’t.
D: Probably for the better—words only go so far.
G: But it—it cohered in my experience.
D: That’s probably a really good word to use for this sticky film—that’s both atomized and cohesive.
G: And I was pleased with that. Because—it’s hard to be sure. And in fact, I don’t want to be sure. Because I’m not attempting to churn out a reliable product. I’m attempting to initiate an honest exploration of something. And that exploration, that experimentation, will yield results, and it’s my responsibility to shake those results into a composition that says something meaningful, but I’m never certain what it is I’m doing, or how I’m getting there, and I try to protect a little bit of that mystery so that the unexpected can occur. If I’m just executing a vision, then it dies on the operating table. So, I’m—so that’s a long way of saying that I can’t totally answer the question about the Framptonian nature, or direction the project is taking.
D: And you are fitting this within an ongoing project, not within a break?
G: Yes, for sure. Yes, it keeps going.
D: Can you talk about why from the very beginning you wanted to do video and digital instead of film?
G: Yeah, because by 1998, I was very dedicated and interested in working entirely in 16mm after having worked in super 8 and videotape in the first half of the 90s, making work that I never released into public—that was when I was a student, exploring things. I knew that I was going to have very, very long takes for this work, and I wanted to be able to have a control over the appearance and decay of text that I couldn’t have working in 16mm film. At this point in 1998, I had a Bolex, which only shot 28 seconds, and I was working on a Model “C” Contact Printer—longest fade: 96 frames, four seconds. And a four second fade isn’t going to do it, for this idea of language staging itself extremely slowly, becoming apparent not over the course of seconds but minutes, and then receding over the same scope of time. So I knew that film wasn’t going to do it for me.
D: But there is this real break from your other films that there’s a flatness here, that’s a very digital flatness. It’s a vertical flatness at the beginning, it switches to a seemingly horizontal flatness, as if looking down on a page, but it’s the flatness of a medium that, I think, really struggles with dimensions. And what was amazing to me was to see both you accepting that flatness by taking up these flat surfaces, and then using the paint to give it texture, and almost bring it back to a film texture, by giving it an actual texture of the paint itself. Whereas in your films what we see is the film itself, and it’s not mediated through another surface.
G: The concern with the surface has migrated from the emulsion of the 16mm film to something in front of the camera.
D: It’s amazing because you dealt with digital’s problem of flattening everything to a surface simply by creating a new one, of the painting itself.
G: And—and the resolution of our current 1080p cameras actually depicts that surface pretty well.
D: Yeah, it can even capture the texture. Whereas in most movies it destroys the texture by flattening. I guess, if we can go back—the stereotype about film is that it’s the bastard art, what happens when painting, music, theater, and literature all have an orgy and generate this monstrous child, cinema. There’s no theater in here—
G: Well, there’s a little bit.
D: When the sound comes on?
G: And there’s the little flies.
D: Oh yeah, there are the flies you kill. There was gasping in the audience, like it was an Argento film.
G: Yeah, so there’s a little bit of melodrama.
D: So I take it back—so we get it all. Even narrative suspense: building of color, what the next color will be… the words, the mysteries, and even the question of when the next fly will get killed. So we have pulp melodrama and high literature and Henry James brought together with your everyday fly massacre.

G: Just like the opening image.desistfilm.com/qa-david-gatten/


Sunday 21 March 2010, 14:00. Film Plateau, Gent.

In the context of the Courtisane Festival 2010 (Gent, 17 - 21 March 2010)

For the past fifteen years American filmmaker David Gatten (US, 1971) has conducted a conscientious filmic investigation of the intersections between text and image, representation and abstraction, the emotional and the intellectual. Using traditional research methods as well as experimental film processes, he delves into the annals of private lives and public histories, in search for a cinematographic synthesis of biography, philosophy and poetry. His silent, handmade and rigorously structured films betray a certain influence of avant-garde filmmakers such as Stan Brakhage and Hollis Frampton, but at the same time reveal a strong personal identity, driven both by theoretical and spiritual considerations. Based on the writings of the same title from the library of William Byrd’s family in 18th-century Virginia, the series Secret History of the Dividing Line forms the core of his oeuvre. The handsome results of his search are, in his own words, “bookish films about letters and libraries and lovers and ghosts that are filled with words, some of which you can read.”
The first four episodes of the 9-part Secret History of the Dividing Line will be screened for the first time in Belgium as part of the thematic programme ‘Vital Signs’. Gatten’s first film Hardwood Process (1996) is also included in ‘Vital Signs’, whereas his recent work Journal & Remarks (2009) will be screened in the competition programme. At the invitation of Courtisane, David Gatten has prepared a selection of works and filmmakers that have been important to his practice.
Secret History of the Dividing Line: A True Account in Nine Parts
Secret History of the Dividing Line
US, 2002, 16mm, b&w, silent, 20’

“Paired texts as dueling histories; a journey imagined and remembered; 57 mileage markers produce an equal number of prospects. The first part of the Byrd cycle, the film focus on two texts by William Byrd, one published and official, the other secret and circulated privately. A torn timeline tells the history of the world and magnified, misaligned cement splices stand in for early 18th century landscapes”. (DG)
The Great Art of Knowing
US, 2004, 16mm, b&w, silent, 37’

“The fourth 16mm film in the Byrd project series. Taking as a point of departure the volume of the same title by the 17th century Jesuit priest Athanasius Kircher, this films attempts a peripatetic exploration of empiricism over the last 500 years. Additional material is drawn from Byrd’s papers, Leonardo da Vinci’s Codex on the Flight of Birds, as well as writings by David Hume and Jules-Etienne Marey”. (DG)
Moxon’s Mechanick Exercises, or, The Doctrine of Handy-Works Applied to the Art of Printing
US, 1999, 16mm, b&w, silent (18 fps), 26’

“This handmade film, with its images generated almost entirely from cellophane tape, is a meditation on the development of the printing press and its role in the spread of Christianity throughout Europe, the relationship between words and images, the poetics of translation, the fine line between the legible and the illegible, and the passage of the soul through the material world.” (DG)
The Enjoyment of Reading, Lost & Found
US, 2001, 16mm, b&w, silent (18 fps), 24’

“A closely watched candle and an invitation to the dance. William Byrd booms among his books while Evelyn keeps to a quiet window; the volunteer fire brigade sorts through the ashes and Isaac Goldberg tells it like it is. Who read what; when, and why?” (DG)
Essential Influences, emotional landscapes and memories of those who came before us
Compiled by David Gatten
“I had read all about the films before I ever saw any of them. By the time I did see them they had taken up permanent residence in my imagination. And when I saw them, I understood anew what it means to witness moving images: the images move - and the images are deeply moving. Hindle, Brakhage, Solomon, Fleming and Frampton: three different generations of American avant garde filmmakers, five very different approaches to that thing we call Cinema, but all films by filmmakers with a profound faith in the capacity of images to move us: aesthetically, emotionally, intellectually. The works of these five artists have intensely affected my own conception of the moving image and my own practice as a filmmaker. Frampton and Hindle were gone before I knew who they were but I was lucky enough to spend six years in conversation and correspondence with Brakhage. I went to graduate school to study with Fleming and learn from her just as she had learned from Hindle. Solomon I met by great good chance while in school and after several years of long-distance study and mentoring he has become a dearest friend and Colorado neighbor. This program of five films is a way for me - now fifteen years into my own filmmaking practice - to look back at the artists and works that shaped my vision during crucial and formative years - and continue to inspire me and expand my idea of what is possible in the art of the moving image”.
Will Hindle

US, 1969, 16mm, colour, sound, 9′

“Hindle’s works are especially notable for their ability to generate overwhelming emotional impact almost exclusively from cinematic technique, not thematic content. Hindle has an uncanny talent for transforming spontaneous unstylized reality into unearthly poetic visions; as in Billabong, a wordless impresionistic ‘documentary’ about a boys’ camp.” (Gene Youngblood)
Stan Brakhage

US, 1979, 16mm, colour, silent, 17′

“… almost like the Earth itself - the green ice-covered rocks, the slicing feeling, the compressive feeling of the glaciers. The whole time I was watching I kept thinking that you were a master of the North, the arctic landscape - the dark red flowers in the dusky light, the deep blue light, the tall trees with the running mists, and Jane looking … the ice, the water, the moss, the golden light. A visual symphony ….” (Hollis Melton)
Phil Solomon
The Snowman

US, 1995, 16mm, colour, sound, 8′

“A meditation on memory, burial and decay … a belated kaddish for my father”. “It is the 19th century ’tissue of lies’ about childhood which Solomon rips open: his visual beauty, a biological beauty, is an encouragement to embrace this transformative mulch, this aesthetic compost, and to give up all commas ‘,’, of hesitation - to accept suffering even (as does most of the animal kingdom most stoically) and revel in the ‘fire of waters’ (as poet Robert Kelley put it) that we all are ….” (Stan Brakhage)
Michele Fleming
Left-Handed Memories

US, 1989, 16mm, colour, sound, 15′

“Like any worthwhile piece of art, Left-Handed Memories can be read several ways. Images of frames and framed materials recur. Pages of a dictionary flip by, and it is here that the viewer can see a reference to Will Hindle. Entry words echo his film titles - Billabong, Chinese Firedrill etc. A soft-focus female nude, reminiscent of an Edward Weston photograph, becomes increasingly scratched as the footage runs, a memento mori of the plastic material itself. Much, the film tells us, is beautiful, and much will be forgotten.” (Tom Whiteside)
Hollis Frampton

US, 1979, 16mm, colour, sound, 9′

“In Gloria! Frampton juxtaposes nineteenth-century concerns with contemporary forms through the interfacing of a work of early cinema with a videographic display of textual material. These two formal components (the film and the texts) in turn relate to a nineteenth-century figure, Frampton’s maternal grandmother, and to a twentieth-century one, her grandson (filmmaker Frampton himself). In attempting to recapture their relationship, Gloria! becomes a somewhat comic, often touching meditation on death, on memory and on the power of image, music and text to resurrect the past.” (Bruce Jenkins)

David Gatten's Secret Histories

Over the last 15 years, David Gatten (b.1971) has explored the intersection of the printed word and moving image. The resulting body of work illuminates a wide array of historical, conceptual and material concerns, while cataloging the variety of ways in which texts function in cinema as both language and image, writing and drawing, often times blurring the boundary between these categories. Using traditional research methods (reading old books) and non-traditional film processes (boiling old books) the films trace the contours of private lives and public histories, combining philosophy, biography and poetry with experiments in cinematic forms and narrative structures. Exploring the archive in unexpected ways and making connections across categories of knowledge and fields of meaning, Gatten’s films construct new compositions and generate novel conclusions from 19th century scientific treatises, “out-dated” 20th century instructional texts, and rare books from 17th and 18th century personal libraries.
Among the leading figures in a diverse movement dedicated to mining the fullness of 16mm film’s expressive possibilities in the digital era, David Gatten – in the words of film scholar Scott MacDonald – “continues to find new creative possibilities in the continued premonitions of film’s demise.” A recent Film Comment critics’ poll of avant-garde filmmaking in the 2000’s saw Gatten place within the top ten filmmakers and included two of his films in a list of the fifty best individual works of the decade. The recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, Gatten and his films have been included in two Whitney Biennials and have appeared at countless film festivals, museums, and cinematheques around the globe.
At the mid-point in the completion of his magnum opus Secret History of the Dividing Line, A True Account in Nine Parts (1996-), this retrospective provides the most complete survey to date of this project, which Artforum called “one of the most erudite and ambitious undertakings in recent cinema.” The two programs devoted to the Secret History series are rounded out by a third consisting of other smaller – but no less vital – series, providing an extensive overview of Gatten’s substantial and accomplished body of work at a remarkable moment in his career. – Chris Stults, Wexner Center for the Arts, Program Curator

Special Event Tickets $12 - David Gatten in Conversation with Film Curator Chris Stults
Friday February 10 at 7pm

Secret History of the Dividing Line, A True Account in Nine Parts (Parts I - IV)

Directed by David Gatten, Appearing in Person. TRT: 101 min

Secret History of the Dividing Line

US 2002, 16mm, b/w, silent, 20 min

The Great Art of Knowing

US 2004, 16mm, b/w, silent, 37 min

Moxon's Mechanick Exercises, or, The Doctrine of Handy-Works Applied to the Art of Printing

US 1999, 16mm, b/w, silent, 26 min

The Enjoyment of Reading (Lost and Found)

2001, 16mm, color, silent, 18 min

Special Event Tickets $12 - David Gatten in Conversation with Film Curator Mark McElhatten
Saturday February 11 at 7pm

Four Films Toward Part V of Secret History of the Dividing Line, A True Account in Nine Parts

Directed by David Gatten, Appearing in Person. TRT: 50 min

The Matter Propounded, Of Its Possibility or Impossibility, Treated in Four Parts

US 2011, 16mm, b/w, silent, 13 min

How to Conduct a Love Affair

US 2007, 16mm, color, silent, 8 min

So Sure of Nowhere Buying Times to Come

US 2010, 16mm, color, silent, 9 min

Film for Invisible Ink, Case No. 323: Once Upon a Time in the West

US 2010, 16mm, b/w, 20 min

Special Event Tickets $12 - David Gatten in Conversation with Film Curator Chris Stults
Sunday February 12 at 4:30pm

Silent Mountains, Singing Oceans, and Slivers of Time

Directed by David Gatten, Appearing in Person. TRT: 67 min

Film for Invisible Ink, Case No. 71: Base-Plus-Fog

US 2006, 16mm, b/w, 10 min

What the Water Said, Nos. 1-3

US 1998, 16mm, color, 16 min

Journal and Remarks

US 2009, 16mm, color, silent, 15 min

Shrimp Boat Log

US 2006/2010, 16mm, color, silent, 6 min

What the Water Said, Nos. 4-6

US 2007, 16mm, color, 17 min

Film for Invisible Ink, Case No. 142: Abbreviation for Dead Winter [Diminished by 1,794]

US 2008, 16mm, b/w, 13 min
- hcl.harvard.edu/

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